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Syracuse women’s lacrosse: Northwestern NCAA Tournament semifinal preview

Let’s kick off Memorial Day weekend with some awesome Final Four action, shall we?

NCAA Photos Archive

Welcome to Championship Weekend, college lacrosse fans!

For the first time since 2016, the Memorial Day weekend party includes the Syracuse Orange women’s lacrosse team. The 3-seeded Orange take on the 2-seed Northwestern Wildcats in the Final Four in a game that will be on ESPN U at about 2:30 p.m. ET, although it might be a little later based on the end time of the first semifinal game.

We appear to be in for a treat as two of the best teams in the country go head-to-head with a spot in Sunday’s championship game on the line.

Series History

Syracuse and Northwestern have met 20 times, with the Wildcats holding a 14-6 lead in the series. The schools met every regular season from 2006-2020, but did not play this year due to Northwestern’s pandemic-induced Big Ten-only schedule.

While the overall series has not gone SU’s way, more recent history has been better. After starting the series losing 11 of the first 12 games, the Orange have gone 5-3 in the last eight, including a 16-11 road victory last season.

This is the fifth postseason meeting between the two, and the Wildcats have owned that part of the history, winning all four previous meetings in 2007, 2008, the 2012 national title game and the 2019 quarterfinal game that was SU’s most recent tournament loss.

No time like the present to make some new history!

Scouting Northwestern

Northwestern absolutely obliterated their schedule this year. They’re currently 15-0 having played only Big Ten teams, winning the regular season and conference tournament titles, and then beating Denver and Duke in their first two games of the NCAA tournament.

How dominant have they been? They literally scored more than twice as many goals as their opponents this year: 309-153. Nine out of 15 games, they scored at least 20 goals. Their lowest amount of goals in a game this year? 17. Their offense is ridiculous.

Obviously, they lead Division I in goals per game at an insane mark of 20.6 goals. That’s almost three more goals per game than second place. They’re also fourth in the country in shooting percentage at 51 percent, and they lead the country in shots per game at over 40 per contest. So, they get off the most shots per game and shoot the fourth best percentage. That is a deadly combination.

Now, yes, I hear you. They have done all this against a weak schedule, which was not their fault, of only Big Ten teams until the NCAA tournament. There’s no question their offensive numbers are more inflated than they would be if they had to play Syracuse’s schedule. A lot of the dominating numbers are somewhat misleading for this Northwestern team as a result of that.

However, do not make the mistake of underestimating this team simply because of their weak schedule. Just because they didn’t play very many good teams doesn’t mean that they themselves are not very good. They definitely are. You don’t put up the kind of numbers they did against any level of competition unless you’re really talented. And they surely are.

The Northwestern offense is led by superstar attacker Izzy Scane (94G, 23A), who led the country in goals, goals per game, points and points per game this season. She scored 6.27 goals per game (big yikes), a number that was not just more than anyone else, it was more than anyone else scored POINTS per game. She pours in goals at rate better than anyone else racks up goals AND assists. That’s crazy #analysis.

Izzy’s prolific scoring (7.8 points per game) is joined by her running mate, Lauren Gilbert (65G, 9A), who averaged just under five points per game and was seventh in the country scoring 4.33 goals per game. Fellow attacker Erin Coykendall (20G, 44A) is a great compliment to the two goal scorers, as she finished seventh in the country dishing out just under three assists per game. Sammy Mueller (37G, 16A) and Lindsey McKone (25G, 17A) round out the quintet of Wildcats who scored more than 40 points this season for the nation’s number one offense.

Keys for Syracuse

One of the big keys to slowing down this Northwestern offense is to stop them from getting on runs. Just ask Duke, who jumped out to a 6-1 lead last week before watching helplessly as the Wildcats finished the game on a 21-4 run.

How do you prevent a run like that from happening? Draw control success.

A Duke team that is normally strong on draw controls lost that battle, 21-13, to Northwestern and, as a result, surrendered 22 goals to them. A team that is going to slow them down absolutely must win enough draw controls to keep the ball away from their powerful offense.

And that won’t be easy, as the Wildcats go roughly three deep on their draw unit, so they’ve got depth and different styles of draw takers to throw at their opponents. They led the country this year in draw control wins per game (19.53), and were seventh in draw control win percent (59.9).

For the Orange, Katelyn Mashewske has been the primary taker all season since Emily Hawryschuk’s injury. Yes, Morgan Widner, Braelie Kempney, and Kenzie Harris have all played the backup role at various times this year, but it’s largely been Mashewske. There’s going to be a lot of pressure on her, Ella Simkins and Emma Tyrrell to pick up draw control wins and ground balls to help SU limit chances of Northwestern going on any runs, otherwise Gary Gait is going to be searching for answers.

Defensively, the strategy is going to be fascinating. How does SU approach defending this prolific offense? We’ve seen them play the face-guarding game before, all three times they matched-up with Charlotte North and Boston College. Grace Fahey was the lucky winner of that assignment, so she’s used to doing it. Will we see the Orange deploy a similar concept with Scane, or will they trust that the zone and its propensity for collapsing on offenses will be enough to rattle a Northwestern offense that likely hasn’t seen anything like it this season? Can’t wait to find out.

Offensively, the Orange just keep doing their thing. Against Loyola, it was Meaghan Tyrrell setting a school record for goals in a NCAA tournament game with seven. Against Florida, it was Emma Ward almost matching her with six, including five in the second half to clinch the game. Tyrrell, Ward and Emma Tyrrell have really led the way since Megan Carney’s injury, but solid contributions from Sam Swart and Sierra Cockerille out of the midfield will be important in this one.

This is a game that figures to be an absolute track meet between two of the best offenses in the country. You’ve got to think that upper-teens or even low-20s is a real possibility for both sides on the scoreboard, which should lead to quite the electric show for college lacrosse fans.

So get ready, because we are kicking off Memorial Day weekend with some awesome Final Four action, a spot in the national championship game up for grabs.

Let’s Go Orange!!! I could not agree more @CuseWLAX: