Oh, man. I should write headlines for a newspaper or something. That copy is jake.
The Orange heads south to New Jersey (gross) Saturday to play Princeton. This game would usually be one of the highlights of the season: Two nationally-ranked powerhouses clubbing each other until one team bleeds out on the turf, signaling victory for the crushing destroyer.
Unfortunately, tomorrow's game isn't exactly lining up like that. Princeton is balls-deep in a stinking mess of a season right now, the polar opposite of the year that Syracuse has been putting together.
The Tigers are currently 2-5 overall, with wins against Brown (me, you, and a bucket of cold ones could beat the Bears) and Johns Hopkins (I still can't explain how this happened). What's striking, though, isn't that Princeton can't beat anyone. It's that the Tigers have the attributes of both a competitive and a really uncompetitive team.
I wrote about the Tigers' problems a few weeks back for College Crosse. (You're reading it every day, right? Good. I'd hunt you down and glue your head to your monitor if you weren't.) I think a lot of the stuff in that piece still holds true:
- Princeton can't generate offensive possessions because a) they can't win draws, and b) they're stopping nobody on the ride.
- As they're not playing many offensive possessions, they're forced to play a ton of defensive possessions. And their defensive possessions are troublesome because . . .
- . . . Tyler Fiorito (Princeton's goalie) is still being asked to make tons of saves on zillions of opponent shots happening on defensive possessions.
- The Princeton defense in front of Fiorito isn't doing its job marking off-ball offensive players, yielding an even worse defensive assist rate now than they were at the time of the piece (the Tigers are now 49th nationally rather than 42nd).
- Princeton's six-on-six offense is pretty impotent with the absences of Mike Chenanchuk (didn't return after last season), Jack McBride (sidelined for the year due to injury), and Rob Engelke (graduated). Injuries haven't helped on that end, either.
When push comes to shove, this isn't the Princeton of old. There's no Hubbard. No Sims. No Hess, Prager, Trombino, Boyle, and on and on and on. The guys that could turn a three-goal deficit into a two-goal lead just aren't there for the Tigers this year. Right now, it's Tom Schreiber, Forest Sonnenfeldt, Chris McBride, and Jeff Froccaro just trying to piece something together for Princeton's offense.
And yet, the Tigers are dangerous. Princeton is just above the national average in adjusted offensive efficiency and just outside the top-10 in adjusted defensive efficiency. They've played a brutal schedule thus far (I have them with the second-toughest nationally based on efficiency values) and have lost three games by a single goal (two were overtime affairs).
I guess the takeaway is this: Princeton isn't a great team, but they're also not miserable; they're better than 2-5 but go about their business like a 2-5 team.
(I don't know if any of that makes sense.)
So, what are some ways that Syracuse can win tomorrow?
- Show up. You can't beat Princeton if you can't get 10 guys on the field. A forfeit would be devastating and probably really embarrassing.
- It's time for Jeremy Thompson to rip it up at the dot. Princeton is going to play really, really slow on Saturday (the Tigers are the slowest team in the country at 52.60 possessions per 60 minutes). A little "make it, take it" would put Princeton on their heels and hopefully playing from a gigantic hole.
- No brain farts defensively. Princeton can't shoot (they're 59th in offensive shooting percentage), and they don't share the ball (they're 49th in offensive assist rate). Lade, Galloway, and Associates just need to focus on doing what they've done all year: Committing detached murder.
- Watch the penalties. Princeton plays on the man-up a ton. With guys like Brian Megill frequently playing loose, there's no need to act all emo and have self-inflicted wounds. Easy with the nonsense; the Tigers should find plenty of ways to screw things up on their own.
Syracuse should win, but the contest has the potential to become one of those "Why is everyone pissing me off?" type of games.