The Syracuse Orange will travel to Louisville on Saturday to face the Cardinals in the regular season and conference finale for both teams. The Orange (13-4 overall, 5-1 ACC) have kicked their game into high gear in the last week or so, and are on a five-game winning streak. This is an important game for both teams for different reasons.
A win on Saturday would give Syracuse the top seed in the ACC Tournament next week. For Louisville (10-6 overall, 2-4 ACC), it's a question of making the NCAA Tournament. After starting out hot, going 6-1, the Cardinals have dropped three out of their last four games. Right now, Louisville does not like like a shoo-in for an at-large spot and their biggest wins have been over fellow bubble contenders Duke and Virginia Tech. A Cardinals victory on Saturday would give them that key win the selection committee likes to see, and would certainly improve their chances to play beyond the ACCT.
Louisville Offense: Unlike Syracuse, the Cardinal offense is concentrated in several players and their main scoring threats are senior attacker Hannah Koloski with 59 points (57 g, 2 a) plus 29 draw controls and sophomore midfielder/draw control specialist Meghan Siverson with 54 points (48 g, 6 a) and 84 draw controls. Several other players to watch for are sophomore attacker/midfielder McKayla Conti who has 30 points (25 g, 5 a), freshman attacker Ashley Lynch with 23 points (7 g, 16 a) and junior attacker Madison Hoover with 20 points (4 g, 16 a).
As a team, Louisville takes about 28-29 shots a game, which is slightly less than Syracuse (33 shots a game). Both teams score roughly the same with the Cardinals getting a small edge over the Orange, 40.5% to 39%. Louisville is significantly better at free position attempts, scoring on 48% of them against SU's 38%. Syracuse has the edge in scoring, getting about 13 goals a game compared to the Cardinals 11-12 per contest.
Louisville Defense: The 'Ville has been pretty solid on defense this year and give up around 10 goals a game (24th in the country) and have held opponents to single-digit goals in half their contests. As with Cornell on Tuesday, a big reason for the Cardinals' defensive success lies with their goalie.
Junior goalkeeper Brittany Read is 16th in the country in saves per game with a 10.06 average and 7th in save percentage (51.4%). Moreover, she is surrounded by a solid group on defense led by senior defender Stephanie McNamara who has 26 caused turnovers and 33 ground balls. Siverson is as much of a defensive threat as she is on offense as well and has 17 caused turnovers and 33 ground balls. Others making solid contributions are junior midfielder Taylor Webster with 16 caused turnovers and 20 ground balls and junior defender Emily Howell who adds 15 caused turnovers and 27 ground balls.
History: Louisville added women's lacrosse as a varsity sport in 2008, playing for a year as an independent before joining the Big East the following year. Syracuse has won all seven contests with the Cardinals, with five coming in Big East play and the other two as ACC foes. The two teams did not play each other in 2014, due to the Orange leaving the Big East for the ACC. Louisville won the Big East Tournament crown that year before jumping over to join Syracuse in 2015. Last year, the Orange edged the Cardinals 13-10 in a game that saw SU score three straight in the first eight minutes before essentially trading goals the rest of the way.
Comparable Opponents: In ACC play, Louisville has wins over Duke and Virginia Tech, while they have lost to North Carolina, Notre Dame, Boston College and most recently, Virginia last Saturday. The only non-conference opponent SU and Louisville share is Northwestern, which resulted in a 12-8 Cardinal loss in late March.
Predictions: This will be hard fought game with a lot on the line for both teams as mentioned above. Louisville has a good defense, but the Orange have also been playing well the last couple of games. I think SU has an advantage offensively just because there are so many players who contribute from game to game. That caused Cornell's defense some problems on Tuesday night, particularly in the second half and I suspect that the Cardinals will have the same issues.
If Syracuse can contain Koloski or Siverson on offense, Louisville will have a tough time. That goes double if Morgan Widner has a typical dominant performance in the draw circle (she's third in the country with about eight draw controls per game). The goalie matchup between Reed and Asa Goldstock has the potential to see some great saves on both sides. Although Goldstock has a 44% save rate for the season, she's been about 55% in her last two games.
Louisville has been in a bit of a slump as of late, while the Orange seem to be hitting their stride at a critical time in the season. However, it should be noted that this is the third game and second on the road in eight days for the 'Cuse. Will there be some wear and tear happening on Saturday? In comparison, Louisville has had all week to prepare for the Orange although they did travel to Virginia last weekend.
All that said, I'm going with Syracuse by three in this one and claim the top seed in the ACCT.