The wrestler Tazz used to have a slogan. "Beat me if you can, survive if I let you." That was Syracuse Lacrosse. Try and beat us, we dare you. And if you beat us today, no worries, we'll still beat you in the NCAA Tournament en route to yet another Final Four.
When college fans talk of dominance, they usually talk about a school that goes to three Final Fours in four years or wins two championships in a relatively close period of time. Syracuse Lacrosse made those standards look adorable.
Eleven national titles (Shut up, NCAA). 27 Final Fours, 22 of them in a row. IN. A. ROW.
No matter how good Syracuse Football or Syracuse Basketball ever got, Syracuse Lacrosse was always better. And though regional and niche, it was always the one program SU fans could point to and say, well, at least we're dominating there.
Fast-forward to this week's 21-7 drubbing by the Duke Blue Devils. The worst loss since a 24-8 beating in 1977. Three games into their ACC lives, the Orange are 0-3, the bottom of the standings.
Yes, Syracuse is coming off a run to the title game (in which they also got beat up by Duke). But the overall decline of the program from main event to just another quality program in the pack has been going on for some time now.
I will admit that I have not put a lot of focus on SU's season so far. As much as I'm a lacrosse fan, I am usually zoned out until basketball season is over. But now that it is, SU got my full attention on Sunday. And what I saw was a disaster.
Amongst the many problems Syracuse had in that game, the one that obviously stands out is face-offs. The Orange were 7-of-31 on face-offs. It's an issue Duke is all to happy to exploit, just like they did in last year's title game. The Devils won the face-off battle in that game 21-9, and the game itself, 16-10.
It's become a running joke (at least I think it's a joke) that Syracuse cannot, for the life of them, seem to find one person capable of winning face-offs consistently. And this has been an issue for YEARS now. Common sense and knowledge seems to indicate that John Desko should be putting a premium on recruiting multiple FOGOs (Face-Off-Get-Off), specialists who are extremely good at winning face-offs and then running off the field to let another player score a goal because of said face-off win.
What has Desko done in the four years since face-offs have become a critical issue for the Orange? He's put his focus on lobbying to ban FOGOs.
If you can't beat'm, try to change the rules, I guess.
Here's the thing. There was a time when the head coach of the Syracuse Lacrosse team could bark a demand and the NCAA would stand at attention. For so long, it was in the NCAAs best interest to make sure a small group of elite lacrosse programs were happy at the expense of everyone else. The continued success of Syracuse, Princeton, Maryland, Johns Hopkins and Virginia was paramount to the niche sports success.
Those days are over. I don't know if Desko realizes that. Just ask Princeton if college lacrosse is worried about their drop-off from elite status these days. Not really, there's ten other programs that were more than happy to pick up the slack in their place.
Syracuse could be in the same place if they're not careful.
So again, I admit I haven't had a finger on the pulse of SU Lacrosse this season so far. I only know what I've seen and what I've read (by our fantastic lax writer Jim Simmons). However I just don't understand exactly what's going on with SU Lax these days. I don't expect us to be the unstoppable monolith we were in the 90's. Those days are gone for everyone, not just us.
But I expect to be competitive in the ACC. I expect to play Virginia in classic games, not easy Cavalier victories. I expect to beat Duke most of the time, not lose most of the time. I expect to be a top seed in the NCAA Tournament, not fight for our post-season lives.
Syracuse is going to be the Miami football of ACC lacrosse, aren't they— Ben Swain (@TheBenSwain) March 23, 2014
And I'm not sure I'm seeing too much to make me feel better about any of it. John Desko has a kind of public ambivalence towards program problems that makes Jim Boeheim look reckless and thoughtless. He never seems to think anything's wrong and if he does, he puts the focus on changing the rules instead of fixing it internally. At least, that's what it seems like.
The season's not over and Syracuse has made plenty of late season runs before. But I prefer my SU Lacrosse to not have to. Maybe I'm just nostalgic. Maybe I just really, really want to beat the snot out of Duke. Either way, I want something that the Orange aren't giving me anymore.
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