This has been a rough year for Syracuse sports fans, but thankfully there's one men's team left with the chance to make some of the pain go away. In case you haven't been checking in - and judging by the comment numbers, you haven't - the Syracuse Orange men's lacrosse team is 6-0 and the No. 1 team in the nation.
We sat down with ESPN analyst, and former Syracuse midfielder (class of '97), Paul Carcaterra, to catch you up on all that you've missed so far.
With Syracuse being undefeated through six games, what has been working so well for them at this point in the season?
I think they’re really balanced. If you look at how deep and versatile they are on all ends of the field. They have probably the best attack unit in the nation with Kevin Rice, Dylan Donahue and Randy Staats. They all complement each other really well. They can throw six offensive midfielders at you. I feel like their defense has really matured over the last year and they have an eraser type defender in Brandon Mullins, who’s arguably the best defenseman in the country. You have leaders and depth at every position, but I think the most important aspect of this team is now they’re able to create runs and play more of a loose, exciting type of style that Syracuse fans are accustomed to because they’re winning faceoffs with Ben Williams.
In the past they had to play very conservative not knowing if they’d get the ball back. Lacrosse is a game of runs and confidence is a major factor in all that. I think Ben Williams, his arrival from Holy Cross, has made all the difference in the world in terms of how they play and how they’re able to take chances and know that if things don’t work out, they’re going to get the ball back.
You mentioned defense has improved a lot from last year, where they gave up a lot of goals, is it just because of the faceoffs or have you seen an overall defensive improvement as well?
Every year when you have starters back you expect more of them in that next year. I think Brandon Mullins has made a leap every year. He was a solid defender, one of the better starters in the ACC a year ago, but now I feel like he’s in consideration for defenseman of the year honors. So he’s made that jump. Sean Young is an excellent off-ball guy and a communicator and can play anyone’s top guy inside. But I think you’d be foolish to not really factor in how tough it is to play defense when you’re not winning faceoffs. Last year, that defense was just asked to play a lot of minutes. It tired them out and put them in a position to compromise everything, in terms of the style they played, the urgency of getting the ball back and giving your offense chances.
What’s maybe a weakness for this team that you’ve seen or that you think could be exposed this year?
I think the second offensive midfield needs to step up down the stretch. I really like their first group; they’re all seniors. Nicky Galasso has been playing great. Hakeem Lecky and Henry Schoonmaker have shown they can deliver in big spots. I haven’t seen enough out of the second midfield really to make a strong case if they could be a force to be reckoned with come tournament time. I think they’ve done a decent job now and they have players that have a lot of potential. I look at (Tim) Barber, he looks really good. I think they need more out of Jordan Evans. If they can find another dodger or two out of that top six, it would make them more difficult to defend and take some weight off of the attack.
Who would be one of Syracuse’s biggest threats as you look either on the schedule or in the future into the tournament?
I look at right now, watching the early season, and things can obviously change in the coming weeks, but I feel like there are five teams that have kind of separated themselves from a talent standpoint. It would be Syracuse, Denver, Notre Dame, North Carolina and Duke. I think (Syracuse) is one of five teams. Are they the best team in the country right now? I don’t know if I could say that. I think they’re extremely balanced, but you could argue that any of those teams could give Syracuse a run for their money, and certainly playing in the ACC is going to be a difficult task for Syracuse playing week in and week out. They’re going to get everyone’s best shot. But I think they’re one of five teams right now that are probably at a different level from the rest of the teams in the country.
Getting waaaayyyy ahead of ourselves … it’s not possible for anyone to go undefeated in DI lacrosse anymore is it?
I mean … I think it’s possible … but with this group and the parity we’ve seen the last four or five years, it’s highly unlikely. I just think the game has grown so much. There’s participation from coast to coast. Right now there are great athletes that are going to a lot of these teams that in the past never had a shot at beating a Syracuse or a Notre Dame or a North Carolina. You have these mid-tier teams that have outstanding players, and it’s obvious that the gap has closed from a parity standpoint. So going undefeated? Look, a lot of people didn’t think it was possible to undefeated in hoops, and Kentucky has a pretty good shot at it. It takes a special group of players but it also takes a special year in terms of competition.
OK, so odds are someone is going to beat Syracuse before the end of the season. What is that team going to have to do to accomplish that?
All you have to do is get them to play a brand of lacrosse that they’re not accustomed to this year, and that’s not controlling possession. If you have a couple of faceoff guys that are good but not great, but can wear down a guy like Ben Williams, I think that’s the key thing. If you’re going to let Syracuse possess the ball and go on runs, you’re not going to beat them. He has shown an ability to take over games, obviously, but you’ve got to be careful if you’re Syracuse about the number of reps you give him. Late in the game against Virginia he got hurt. If this kid is not out there, the playing field becomes very level compared to what it could be.
The game of lacrosse now from a faceoff standpoint is much different than it has been in the past, where a dominant faceoff man could just kind of control the ball. Because of the rules now, there are a lot more 50/50 ground balls, and Williams being a great athlete, he’s able to really maximize these rules better than some of these other specialists, who would clamp and have the ball in the back of their stick and run around to daylight. Williams is great at getting after groundballs, but the negative to that is there’s going to be a lot more wear and tear on him because he’s fighting for these groundballs that are up for grabs. You take a beating when you do that.
What would you expect to see this week out of Duke and is there anything that the Blue Devils can really expose with Syracuse?
I think the first thing is Duke’s defense is really inexperienced, so I think Syracuse’s attack matches up well against that defense. But I think on the other side of the ball, Peter McCartney – long stick midfielder from Syracuse – is clearly playing the best lacrosse of his career. I’d like to see how he matches up against Myles Jones. I thought he did a great job on Connor Buczek who’s a big, strong, physical dodger. McCartney is playing with urgency, playing with a lot of physicality. Can anyone stop Myles Jones and Deemer Class? The answer so far has been no. You have to have a philosophy, defensively: do you let these guys just go berserk and shut down the rest of the team, or do whatever you can to stop them and open up opportunities for some of these other guys.
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