Play time is over, boys and girls.
It’s time for the Syracuse Orange men’s lacrosse team to dive into the deep end of their 2021 season.
After three straight weeks taking care of business against Vermont, Stony Brook, and Holy Cross, SU hits the road for the first time this season to take on the No. 2 Duke Blue Devils for a primetime, Top-5 ACC showdown that kicks off the toughest stretch of SU’s season.
This is a massive game that will prove a significant litmus test for both teams, so what are the things to look for as we head into this mammoth matchup?
In a matchup of two of the most loaded offensive units in the country, possession will be as good as gold in this game.
Jake Naso, Duke’s primary face-off man, is 12th nationally at 65.5 percent (97-of-148).
Jakob Phaup is 26th nationally at 59.3 percent (70-of-118).
Their numbers are close, but will their actual matchup reflect the same? Does one of their techniques match up well with the others, leading to a performance a la Tommy Burke against SU (24-of-34) or Phaup against Virginia (22-of-33)?
If either of them is able to find that kind of rhythm in this game, it could mean the difference for that player’s team. In a matching up of two heavyweight offenses, the knockout blow could come down to the offense that gets to throw more punches.
Duke’s O vs. Syracuse’s D
Duke’s offense is tied for third highest-scoring nationally at 17.25 per game. No surprise, their shooting percentage reflects the same, also third best in the nation at a frightening 40.6 percent.
The players behind those numbers are even more frightening, as Duke’s six starters can go toe-to-toe with anyone in the country. The attack leads the way behind superstar Michael Sowers, super-freshman Brennan O’Neill, and expert goal scorer Joe Robertson. The midfield is no slouch, led by senior Nakeie Montgomery.
The approach for Lelan Rogers’ group is tantamount to scaling a vertical cliff. There are just so many pratfalls, both in defending Duke’s immense individual talent and their collective offensive approach.
The matchup questions alone are plentiful. How will they approach defending Michael Sowers? As he has been his entire career, Sowers’ foot speed, quickness, and athleticism make him essentially unguardable for just one defender. How quickly will the help defense come, and can the subsequent rotations happen fast enough to prevent wide open looks for Duke?
Brett Kennedy is likely the best matchup for Sowers due to his overall athleticism, but the coaching staff has moved him back to his more natural position in the defensive midfield. Will they move him back for a game to defend Sowers, or will the assignment fall to Mitch Wykoff?
However the matchups shake out, SU’s defense has a monumental task ahead of them. The off-ball defense, communication, and short-sticks all need to take jumps forward if they are to take the pressure off goalie Drake Porter.
Syracuse’s O vs. Duke’s D
On the other end of the field, Duke’s defense will have similar questions to answer going against Syracuse’s offense, which is ranked seventh in the country averaging 16 goals per game.
The potential trouble for SU? Duke’s defense actually comes into the day also ranked seventh, averaging only eight goals against per game so far this season. Now, to be fair, a good portion of that low number can be attributed to some of their games against weaker opponents like Mercer, Towson, Air Force, and Jacksonville (shout out Johnny Galloway!).
I don’t think any of us expect Duke to hold SU to eight goals or fewer, something they’ve done to their last six opponents. Regardless, it’s still an eye-catching number.
But this Orange offense is the strongest JT Giles-Harris and Duke’s defense have come up against this year. They haven’t faced a playmaker the likes of Owen Hiltz. They haven’t faced a midfield that comes even close to the mixture of talent SU puts on the field.
So, is SU can gain possession on face-offs and then limit the turnovers, this offense can go to work and put up a good number against a Duke defense that is no pushover.
Another big key to this game is the matchup between the pipes between two of the best goalies in the country in Syracuse’s Drake Porter and Duke’s Mike Adler.
Adler, the St. Joseph’s transfer, is putting up big numbers so far this season as he sits fourth in the country with a 6.83 goals against average and a very impressive 60.9 save percentage.
Porter has had a great start to the season himself, as he leads the ACC averaging 13 saves per game while sporting a save percentage of 57.
The goalies are going to have the same potential impact as the face-off specialists in this game. If either of them are able to stand on their heads and even slightly slow down one of these high-powered offenses, that goalie’s team is going to gain a big advantage.
Someone call up Vin Diesel, cause this game is gonna be Fast and Furious (sorry).
But seriously, we are looking at a probable goal-fest for Thursday night primetime. Two of the top seven scoring offenses in the country collide, and the fans will be the beneficiaries, getting to witness as great a collection of lacrosse talent as you could possibly hope for on one college field.
Tune in to the ACC Network tonight at 7 PM to see something special.
Nothing left to do but say...Let’s. Go. Orange!!