The 2021 lacrosse season is spiraling on the No. 11 Syracuse Orange. Three loses in four, two of them by a combined 19 goals at home. Injuries. Suspensions. A 5-4 record and needing one win in the last two to ensure a postseason berth (unless they find a replacement for Utah).
Unfortunately, the setup for Saturday doesn’t appear any rosier, as the Orange take a trip down to Charlottesville to face yet another highly ranked ACC team, the No. 5 Virginia Cavaliers. There is no relief for the downtrodden in this conference. There is no sympathy, nor is there pity.
There is only the next game.
And it happens Saturday at 12 PM on ESPN 2. Yes, you’re seeing that correctly. This game was a late switch to the deuce, meaning that college lacrosse’s spotlight just got bumped up a notch. But will that be a good thing for the Orange? Tune in at noon to find out.
Chase Scanlan is suspended. Jacob Buttermore is injured. Nick DiPietro and Brandon Aviles missed the UNC game.
A Syracuse team that can’t find the right rhythm is now dealing with relatively extensive roster absences. I don’t know the status of DiPietro and Aviles for this week’s game, but that’s two defensive starters who missed last week’s game, plus a second-line midfielder and the team’s leading goal scorer.
There’s nothing that can be done here. It’s simply next man up, but SU losing their leading goal scorer, a starting close defender, and their second-best short-stick defender are big blows for a team with the already difficult task of beating a Virginia team out to prove that February’s game was a complete fluke.
I hope next man up can show us something.
We’ve been living in this world non-stop for the past month, ever since the team went 8-of-32 in the Duke game. Things actually got slightly better against the Tar Heels when SU went 44 percent at the X, although that’s when other issues like holding onto the ball came into play.
But this same old face-off conversation is getting an infusion of spice this week against the Cavaliers. Not only did Jakob Phaup actually win 67 percent of the face-offs against Virginia’s Petey LaSalla and Co., but it was later reported by ESPN’s Anish Shroff that there were murmurings that Phaup was jumping early in that game and not having it called.
In the months since, coaches have become aware of that issue and have likely been bringing it to the attention of officials, and you know that no team is more motivated to make officials aware of it than Virginia.
It should be a fascinating battle tomorrow at X, and that’s aside from the fact that it continues to be paramount for Syracuse to improve their performance in that area to give their offense more chances and take pressure off their defense.
We all remember the 20-10 drubbing from back in February. How could we not? It was far and away the best moment of the 2021 season for Syracuse.
It was a rare moment of relaxed enjoyment in the Syracuse-Virginia rivalry. Normally, things are a lot more tense when the Orange and Cavaliers face-off. You guys remember the whole 18 wins and 466 goals each thing from February, right?
Well, now it’s 19-18 and 486-476, and a revenge-minded Virginia is going to do everything they can to get those numbers back to even, or maybe even surpass SU in the goals department.
And the point is, that might well be possible given the trajectory of the seasons for each team since. While the Orange have faltered to 4-3 since, the Cavs have gone 7-2 with wins over UNC and ND.
Matt Moore has played his way into being one of 25 Tewaaraton nominees. Connor Shellenberger should have arguably joined him, too. Jared Connors and Petey LaSalla did join him. Dox Aitken is resemble himself again, a terrifying prospect. Alex Rode is playing like the 2019 Final Four MVP.
To misquote Jon Rothstein: THIS. IS. NO. LONGER. FEBRUARY.
Syracuse fans might not need that reminder, but the Cavs are going to do their best to remind us anyway.
Doing the “Little” Things
A Lars Tiffany team is always one of the best in the country at executing the “little” things. You know, all the stuff that doesn’t grab the headlines like goals, assists, points, face-offs, and saves, but is absolutely paramount for any team that wants to make a deep run into the postseason.
I don’t know what he's doing or how he does it, but coach Tiffany always gets his guys to scrap for ground balls, ride like crazy in the clearing game, and just exhibit general toughness that other teams don’t do as well.
This is always a challenge going against Virginia. I highlighted it in my preview for the first game, and it actually turned out pretty well for SU. The Orange kept the ground ball game close (36-35) and actually forced more failed clears from the Cavs (5) than they did against us (4). They took away UVA’s usual advantage in those areas, which was a huge factor in helping to get the big win.
But that doesn’t change the fact that Virginia is still phenomenal in these areas. They’re tied for first in the country at GBs per game (44), and have a +150 edge on loose balls for the season. For comparison, SU is -24 on the season. *Gulp*
Additionally, UVA’s opponents clear at only a 77 percent success rate this season due to their 10-man ride. That is very low and again, for comparison, SU’s opponents this year are 83 percent successful on clears.
SU has struggled in the last month even with basic passing and catching at times, one of the reasons they turned it over so much against UNC. They’re got to get that cleaned up completely, and then they somehow find a way to match Virginia in the clearing and ground ball battles, or we may be looking at a long afternoon down in Charlottesville.
So throw on some ESPN 2 at 12 PM on Saturday to see Syracuse try to fight off a scrappy, angry Virginia team and pick up that final win that they need in order to play May lacrosse.
Let’s Go Orange!!!