Fresh off an impressive victory over Army, Syracuse welcomes one of its greatest rivals and ACC foe, the Virginia Cavaliers. Syracuse and Virginia have produced some of the greatest lacrosse games of all-time and each year college lacrosse fans eagerly await this matchup. Despite the rivalry, there is no bad blood between the schools or fan bases, mainly tracing back to the fact that both UVA and Syracuse love to play a fast-paced, up and down style of lacrosse. You won’t have to worry about stall warnings or shot clocks when these two teams meet. The all-time series between the two teams is extremely close, with UVA holding a narrow 16-14 edge. Sunday should be another great chapter in this intense and fan favorite matchup. Here a few things I will be watching closely when the two teams face off at noon on Sunday…
Can Syracuse replicate its success at the X
With Ben Williams winning an unbelievable 80% of the draws last week against Army, Syracuse fans now have a confidence at the X they haven’t felt since Danny Brennan graduated after the 2008 National Championship game. To date, Williams is winning a mind boggling 70% of his draws despite going up against several top end face off specialists from Siena and Army. On paper, Syracuse would appear to have a huge advantage at the X versus Virginia. The Cavs starting faceoff specialist, Jeff Kratky, is under 40% for the year and UVA as a team is barely over 40%.
If Williams turns in another monster performance it will be difficult to see how UVA could come away with a win. One aspect to keep an eye on in this game is the wing play of both teams. Syracuse was a disaster at the X last year at Virginia when Chris Daddio struggled mightily. The wing play that day offered no help as they were equally inept. So far this season Syracuse has showed significantly improved wing play, and it will be worth watching to see if the trend continues.
UVA offense vs Syracuse defense
Like most Virginia teams, this year’s version of the Cavs has an outstanding offense. Led by their midfield starting trio of Zed Williams, Ryan Tucker, and Greg Coholan, the Cavs present an imposing challenge for any defense. UVA’s attack has gotten off to a slower start outside of Ryan Lukacovic, who has 10 points on the year (6 goals, 4 assists). James Pannell had a monster game last year (7 goals) against Syracuse but has only four goals on the season and two assists. To date Virginia will be the most potent offense Syracuse has faced, as unlike Army and even Cornell their strength is the midfield, which will put immense pressure under the ‘Cuse shorts stick defensive midfield players.
It will be interesting to see how John Desko and the Syracuse staff choose to match up defensively. Does SU decide to double pole the midfield and risk a shorty on an attackmen? Does Mullins draw Lukacovic or does Desko elect to have him shadow Zed Williams, arguably the Cavs’ top offensive threat? Expect to see a lot of Ralph D’Agostino and Scott Firman as Syracuse will likely try several different matchups against the UVA midfield. I also wouldn’t be surprised to see Syracuse double the midfield. Bobby Wardwell will need to have another above average game as UVA can rack up points in a hurry and will try to make this a track meet as much as possible.
Syracuse offense vs UVA defense
As much as the Syracuse defense has its hands full, it still wouldn’t swap places with Virginia defenders. Already short on depth and experience after multiple losses to graduation and a late transfer, UVA suffered a devastating blow when All-American Tanner Scales was lost for the season to a torn Achilles in the preseason. Virginia is now starting two freshmen and a former walk on at close defense. To date the young and inexperienced Cavs defense has held up fairly well as Virgnia is 3-0 on the year. However, the Cavs are giving almost 10 goals per game and you wonder how long a defense that young and inexperienced can hold up, especially with major issues at the X.
Davi Sacco, a Jamesville-Dewitt graduate and former walk on, has become the top close defenseman on the team and is likely to draw Kevin Rice. Keep a close eye on Syracue’s attack this game as Randy Staats and Dylan Donahue are likely to draw true freshmen defenders. Unlike Army, UVA will likely need to slide early and often to help their young defenders try to match up with the veteran ‘Cuse attack. Don’t be surprised if Staats or Donahue has a moster game, especially if Williams is winning a majority of the draws. Most believe UVA will play a zone and try to pack things in versus Syracuse, much like Bryant did in last year’s NCAA tourney. While Syracuse has struggled against zones in the past it maybe difficult for such a young defense to play a disciplined zone like Bryant did last year for three quarters and change.
Lost in the victory last Sunday over Army was the disappointing performance of both of Syracuse’s midfield lines. While each of the three starters was able to tally a goal, they were MIA for long stretches and seemed to really struggle to break away from the Army short stick defenders. Hakeem Lecky in particular seemed to struggle and averted back to his younger years on the Hill with several ill advised shots, including one late in the fourth that drew a stern lecture from head coach John Desko.
With UVA forced to concentrate a large amount of energy and resources to slow the Syracuse attack, the midfield should see plenty of opportunities regardless of whether or not UVA is playing man or zone. Henry Schoonmaker and Lecky both had big games last year against Virginia – can they repeat? If UVA plays a zone, as expected, does John Desko change up the second mid line to get Derek Dejoe or Hayes McGinley – two designated long range shooters – in to try and loosen things up from the outside?
Much like Army last week, it’s difficult to get a great feel for how good UVA is. While the Cavs are 3-0 on the year, their opponents to date have struggled. Loyola, a top 10 team to start the season, has showed zero depth and fell to Holy Cross last Saturday. Drexel is 0-3 and has been unable to show any semblance of a defense. Rutgers, who Virginia played last Saturday, is 2-2 but was blown out by both Virginia and Richmond and squeaked by a poor Wagner team.
All that said, if you go by history this should be a close game throughout and could be a one or two goal difference late in the fourth. It’s hard to argue against this not being a close game as Virginia has an outstanding offense, including one of the best starting midfield lines in the nation, and a potent attack with veteran players. In the end I think questions at goalie and the faceoff X will be too much for the Cavs to overcome. Barring a disasterous performance by the Syracuse defense, I like the Orange 16-12.