After putting forth a dominant performance on Sunday, the Syracuse Orange men's lacrosse team is now the No. 1 team in the nation. SU showcased its many strengths in beating the rival Cavaliers. Here are five takeaways:
1. Ben Williams' injury casts shadow over victory
It is not an overstatement to say Ben Williams may be the MVP of the early season for the Orange in 2015. He's winning 72.1 percent of his faceoffs, including such performances as 17-20 in the opener against Sienna, 21-25 last week against Army, and another stellar 15-19 on Sunday. It's one of the reasons Syracuse's defense is limiting opponents to just 30 shots per game, while the offense puts up a scorching 43.25 per game. If they continue to score at a .358 shooting percentage, the additional 13.25 shots per game leads to an additional 4.74 goals per game (!!!). While it was encouraging to see him on the sideline in uniform and not receiving medical attention shortly after he grabbed at his shoulder/pectoral, it is certainly something to monitor going forward. Zack Vehar filled in admirably with a 5-7 performance at the X, but many of those were due to strong wing play by the Orange to fight for 50/50 balls, and it's clear Williams would be a huge loss for the team if he were to miss any time.
2. SU's defense continues to dominate, proves it's the real deal
One caveat from the post last week on Syracuse's defensive improvement in 2015 should have been that they have yet to play UVA - which they often did in the first three weeks. That game is typically an offensive bonanza each year, with Virginia averaging 13 goals per game in the three previous meetings and even averaging 11.75 goals per game during SU's dominant defensive run between 2008-11. Instead, the Orange frustrated UVA all game, dominating time of possession, thanks to Williams, and outshooting the Cavaliers 50-31. It's just the second time since 2002 that Virginia failed to score double digits against Syracuse, and keeps the Orange defense averaging just 7.75 goals against per game on the season. The defense is for real.
3. Virginia isn't as good as they normally are, but that shouldn't discount the performance
This Virginia team has flaws. The announcers harped on the defensive inexperience at the start of the game, and SU wasted no time exposing that weakness, jumping out to a 7-0 run to start the game. But the UVA offense is not supposed to be this weak. The Cavaliers came into the game averaging 13.7 goals per game, and hadn't scored fewer than 13 goals in a single game until Sunday. That was against two ranked teams in Loyola and Drexel, and something else called a Rutgers, which apparently exists. So while UVA doesn't look like a championship team right now, Syracuse should still be very proud of its ability to surgically pick apart an opponent's weakness, and then turn a supposed strength into a weakness as well.
4. Second midfield shows up
If we're picking nits with this team, the second midfield probably deserves some criticism so far. While everyone else seems to be scoring at will, the second line came into Sunday averaging just 1 goal and 0.67 assists per game (not counting man up unit goals) with a mix-match of Derek DeJoe, Nick Weston, Tim Barber, Jordan Evans, and Sergio Salcido. But that changed on Sunday with Barber, DeJoe and Evans all lighting up the scoreboard with a goal apiece. It will be interesting to see how Desko continues to tweak his lineup going forward. Evans and Barber seem to be favorites to get regular playing time, but DeJoe could steal some run from Weston if he continues to develop the rest of his game and not just as an outside shooter.
5. Shorties shine on both ends
One of the underrated aspects of the defensive improvement in 2015 has been the development of short-stick middies Tom Grimm, Mike Messina and Paolo Ciferri. All three put up a tremendous effort, helping to force the UVA midfielders to continually settle for long outside shots, and Ciferri and Grimm (who was the 7th rated attack coming out of high school) earned a reward by each notching their first goals of the season in transition. It was old-school lacrosse at its finest.