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Syracuse men’s lacrosse vs. Georgetown: NCAA Tournament first round preview

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The Orange and Hoyas put their seasons on the line this Saturday in the opening round of the 2021 NCAA Tournament.

Johns Hopkins v Syracuse Photo by Rich Barnes/Getty Images

May Madness. MAY-hem. Or just plain tourney time. Whatever you call it, it’s just about here.

For the Syracuse Orange men’s lacrosse team and their fans, this used to be the best time of the year. A spring lacrosse festival that we always hung around for until the end.

But the good times have been running short in May in recent years. The deep postseason runs have dried up as the Orange haven’t won the championship since 2009 and haven’t been to Memorial Day weekend since 2013. SU hasn’t even won a tournament game since a first round win over Yale back in 2017.

We all want to see SU back in the Final Four and hoisting the trophy for the 12th time in school history, but before they can do that, they’re got to start with one win.

Their chance for that is going to come on Saturday night, 7:30 p.m. ET on ESPN U down in College Park against the No. 5 Georgetown Hoyas.

I think we were all satisfied with the draw SU got when we watched the selection show on Sunday night, getting a likely over-seeded Georgetown and possibly Virginia in the quarterfinals.

But the truth is this is a very good Georgetown team. There is A LOT that they do very well, all over the field. Their main strength is probably on the defensive end, so let’s start with their last line of defense and work our way up the field.

GOALIE

Owen McElroy is one of the best goalies in the country helming one of the best defenses in the country. He leads Division I in save percentage and, at 60.5 percent, he’s the only goalie saving more than 60 percent of the shots he faces. He’s also second in the country with a 7.97 goals-against average.

The Syracuse shooters are going to need to ping the corners, but they’re also going to need to be smart with their selection. McElroy makes all the saves he’s supposed to, plus a bunch that he’s not. You simply can’t give a guy like that the opportunity to make easy saves due to poor shot choices that can give him momentum and make him feel comfortable between the pipes. He’s already one of the best out there; no need for the Orange offense to make things easier on him.

DEFENSE

Speaking of the best, the Georgetown defense also lays claim to being one of the top units in Division I. The Hoyas defense is first in scoring, giving up a paltry 7.93 goals per game.

Led by one of the best close defenders anywhere, Gibson Smith, the unit holds opponents to a 22.7 shooting percentage and creates 8.93 turnovers per game. That’s a lethal combination that leads to the sub-eight goals-against number above.

Additionally, their man-down unit is incredible. Georgetown opponents are only 7-of-37 on extra-man opportunities this year. That’s 18.9 percent of the time the offense scores when they have one more player than the Hoya defense. That’s, like, really good.

The Syracuse offense is facing one of their most difficult challenges of the year. They’re going to have to be clean, not waste possessions with turnovers, use crisp ball movement to create good scoring opportunities, and all of that is before they come up against Owen McElroy.

This is a going to be tough.

FACE-OFF

I think we can all agree we’ve talked about face-offs way too much this year.

Jakob Phaup has had an all-over-the-place kind of season: amazing against Virginia, terrible against the rest of the ACC and Vermont, and solid against everybody else.

We don’t know where Georgetown will fall in the spectrum of Phaup’s crazy season, but we do know they match up pretty evenly with Phaup by the numbers.

James Reilly is their primary FOGO. He’s taken 277 face-offs this year and won 59.2 percent of them. Phaup has taken 248 and won 57.3 percent. Unlike Phaup’s temperamental season, Reilly has been a little more reliable on a game-to-game basis, although he did struggle against Denver’s dynamic face-off duo (Alex Stathakis and TD Ierlan) in two of their three games this year.

Reilly averages 11.7 face-off wins per game and seven GBs per game, which tells us that he’s pretty good at winning it to himself. By comparison, Phaup averages an almost-identical 11.8 face-offs per game, but only 5.6 GBs. So, Reilly wins it himself a little more consistently than Phaup, who requires the assistance of his wings for GB pickups.

The bottom line with this matchup, like with every face-off matchup, is how do these two specifically matchup with each other. The numbers only tell us so much, and might not indicate anything at all. Remember Petey LaSalla and his above-70 percent success rate getting destroyed by Jakob Phaup?

Whose technique takes the advantage in this matchup? Whose quickness and reaction time? Whose strength? And whose desire? We won't know the answers to these until Saturday night, and they will be incredibly important in determining the outcome of this game.

OFFENSE

The Georgetown offense probably doesn’t get as much attention as it should, but they’ve got a lot of playmakers that are going to be difficult to stop for Syracuse’s weakest unit.

The Hoyas are experts in playing a team brand of offense. They lead the country (anyone else getting concerned by how many times I’ve written that in this article?) in assists. At 10.29 per game, they’re one of only three teams to average double-digit assists.

A borderline-obscene 76.2 percent of their goals this season have been assisted. It almost like they think the goal doesn’t count unless someone receives a helper in the box score.

The main distributor is TJ Haley, a true freshman who leads the country with 3.62 assists per game, while the main beneficiary of all this passing is Jake Carraway, whose 3.54 goals per game is fourth highest in the country. Graham Bundy Jr. is another name to look out for, as his 2.43 goals per game ranks him as one of the country’s highest scoring midfielders. They’ve got a handful of other guys who strongly round out their offense in Nicky Petkevich, Declan McDermott, Dylan Watson and Dylan Hess.

There are a few aspects of their offense that are not that strong. They shoot the ball at only 29.6 percent on the season (26th in country), they turn the ball over an average of 16.1 times per game (24th) and their man-up unit is just fair at a 35.5 success rate (30th).

The scariest part about this offense is how well they share the ball. We all know off-ball defense and communication have been major weaknesses for the Syracuse defense all season, and I imagine those areas will be greatly tested against a team that moves the ball this well. The notion that TJ Haley and Jake Carraway are going to be able to pick this defense apart is an all too real one.

I don’t know where or how Lelan Rogers is going to find the answers for this Georgetown offense, but I have a feeling a huge game from Drake Porter is plan B...or maybe even plan A.

OVERVIEW

So this Georgetown team is really good. They’ve got strengths everywhere you look on the field.

If the Orange are going to hang tough in this game, they need to play as close to mistake free as possible. I realize that’s a goal every time you take the field, but against a team with the overall strength of Georgetown and with the defensive weaknesses SU has, they need to limit giving them any freebies.

Syracuse has been a sloppy team this year, not just with turnovers, but also with mental mistakes that lead to opportunities for our opponents. Those things cannot happen against a good team in an elimination game.

Can the Orange finally put it together against a really good team not named Virginia in 2021?

On the LiveStream with Christian and Steve on Sunday night, I picked Syracuse to win this game, but I’m afraid I was picking more with my heart than my head. What do you guys think of SU’s chances this Saturday?

I hope you guys have got a good spot to take in the game, because we’ve got primetime lacrosse coming our way with the fate of the season hanging in the balance.

It’s almost go time, so find the edge of your seat and Let’s. Go. Orange!!!