You can say what you want about the Big East men’s lacrosse tournament and SU’s desperate run to secure a NCAA at-large bid, but none of it changes the fact the Orange is back in the postseason. That being said, let’s breakdown the chances of both Syracuse and Colgate making a run to Memorial Day Weekend –
For the Orange, 2012 has been one of the oddest and most trying seasons in program history. SU knew heading into the season it would have to replace seven All-Americans from a year ago, but hardly anyone thought the ‘Cuse would struggle to a .500 (7-7) regular season record.
After pulling a 180 at the Big East Tournament (and catching a HUGE break in St. John’s semifinal upset of 2nd-ranked Notre Dame), John Desko’s club appears to finally be playing up to its potential. Over it’s last ten quarters of lacrosse, the Orange is:
- out-shooting opponents 93-72
- winning the groundball battle 83-62
- winning 54.5% of draws at the face-off ‘X’
- converting 64% of man-up opportunities (7-for-11)
Still, one can’t ignore the fact that nearly all of SU’s wins have come against the weakest competition on its schedule. Syracuse played five games against NCAA Tournament teams and won just one of them – a 10-9 upset of Princeton inside the Carrier Dome. Add in a road loss to Cornell, and SU is just 1-5 this year against the RPI top-20.
While the Orange did play teams like Duke (their first round opponent), Virginia (the defending national champs) and Notre Dame (the Big East regular season champs) tough, they were also their own worst enemy in those losses – turning the ball over, failing to win face-off’s, getting out-hustled to groundballs, not converting on the EMO and looking very out-of-sorts defensively.
That all seems to have changed over the last couple of weeks, thanks to some personnel shifts and younger guys getting more game experience. If that is indeed the case, then SU could be the most dangerous of the unseeded teams in the bracket. Should they get through the first round in Durham, the quarterfinals set-up nicely for Syracuse, as they would take on either UMass or Colgate – two very good teams who are not without some glaring flaws.
While Duke is deservedly the tourney’s 3-seed and undefeated at home this year, they’re by no means invinceable. The Blue Devils went just 5-4 against the RPI top-20 this year, and are coming off a 15-9 loss to Denver in which they were totally outplayed. Duke is also 0-3 all-time against SU in the NCAA Tournament.
The Blue Devils beat Syracuse last month, 12-10, at the Big City Classic in MetLife Stadium. The Orange actually led that game 3-1 after the first quarter, before Duke’s potent offense came alive.
Still, SU rallied from a three goal third quarter deficit to tie things, and then tied the game again in the fourth. Were it not for some spectacular saves by keeper Dan Wigrizer on the crease doorstep, the Orange might have completed the comeback.
As long as the Big East Tournament was not an aberration, the seemingly unspectacular Syracuse Orange could make an improbable run to the Final Four.
*Interesting side note – SU enters the NCAA Tournament with a true freshman starting at goalie, Bobby Wardwell. The last time Syracuse did that was 2008, when John Galloway backstopped the Orange the first of back-to-back national titles. Galloway is now a volunteer assistant on the Duke staff.
Unlike their CNY neighbors on the Hill, the 2012 campaign has been the most successful in school history for Colgate. Under first year head coach Mike Murphy, the Raiders have already won a school-record 13 games, and earned just the second NCAA Tournament berth in program history (their first as an at-large team). The Raiders went 5-1 against the RPI top 20 this year, including an impressive 13-11 win over Maryland to close the regular season.
Colgate leads Division I in goals scored this season, thanks in large part to Tewaaraton Trophy nominee Peter Baum. The junior attackman leads the country in goals (64), total points (93) and points-per-game (5.81). Fellow attackman Ryan Walsh is second on the team in points (33 goals, 21 assists), after breaking the school freshman scoring record (previously held by Baum). Jeff Ledwick ranks third for the Raiders in goals scored, with a very impressive 32 from the midfield position.
As dominant as the Colgate offense has been though, the defense has been inconsistent. The Raiders rank 32nd in the nation in scoring defense, giving up 9.75 goals per contest. Only MAAC champion Canisius ranks lower among tournament teams. In six of their past eight contests, the Raiders have yielded double-digit scores.
If Colgate can make enough stops this Saturday at UMass, they can easily win their first round match-up. While the Minutemen are the only undefeated team in Division I (15-0), they didn’t play a single team in this year’s NCAA Tournament. UMass went 5-0 against the RPI top 20, but didn’t play a single team with an RPI above 16.
UMass’ strength is its offense. The Minutemen are third in the country in scoring, averaging 13.07 goals a game. Attackman Will Manny (also a Tewaaraton nominee) leads the charge, with 43 goals and 32 assists. His 75 points are third in the country. Fellow attackmen Kyle Smith and Art Kell are also 30 goal scorers this year.
Defensively the Minutemen are ranked third nationally, giving up just 6.80 scores per game. However, UMass has yet to face an offense as strong as Colgate’s, or a player as dynamic as Peter Baum. They will have home field advantage, and Garber Field in Amherst is one of the tougher venues in college lacrosse.
As long as Colgate can overcome their surroundings and make the key stops, they too can pull a first round upset. Should that happen, it would set up an all-CNY quarterfinal between SU and Colgate. They would meet down in Philadelphia for the right to advance to Memorial Day Weekend.