Okay, I’ll admit it. I am absolutely one of those sports fans who thinks his favorite team is screwed whenever their next opponent loses their last game before playing them. In my mind, it’s inconceivable that any team could possibly lose two games in a row, so I’m always upset when I see their next opponent is coming off a loss.
That reaction happened for me again last weekend, when I watched the shocking result that the Syracuse Orange men's lacrosse team’s next opponent, the Maryland Terrapins, lost to the Loyola Greyhounds, 12-7.
After getting over the shock of seeing Maryland lose a regular season game for the first time in 25 games (!), my attention immediately turned to ‘Cuse having to face the Terrapins the next game after they were crushed by the Hounds. (Faceoff is at 1:00 on the Big Ten Network+)
Maryland’s not the kind of team you want to play after a game in which they played so poorly, regardless of the game’s outcome. John Tillman is maybe the best coach in the country, and he’s got a lot to fix after last weekend and a team that’s going to be very motivated to get back on the right track after a rare setback.
But my completely irrational fear aside, for multiple reasons, the timing of the Maryland matchup might actually be a good scenario for Gary Gait and his boys as they try to spring the upset on the road.
First, there’s the very unfortunate news that came out of the Loyola game that Maryland’s All-American goalie, Logan McNaney, will miss the rest of the season with a torn ACL sustained in that game.
Goalie Logan McNaney of reigning NCAA champion Maryland men's lacrosse will miss the rest of the season after tearing his ACL in Saturday's 12-7 loss at Loyola Maryland, according to a source. McNaney had an 8.31 goals-against average and a .531 save percentage in two starts.— Edward Lee☀️ (@EdwardLeeSun) February 14, 2023
It’s actually important to note that John Tillman, in his media availability this week, did not confirm this report (from the Baltimore Sun) and instead said that he is still set to meet with the team of doctors and will have a more formal update on Saturday.
Regardless, McNaney will not be playing in this weekend’s game. And while you never want to see any player suffer such a terrible injury, the timing of this one could be something the Orange can use to their advantage.
The Terms do have a solid No. 2 option in goalie Teddy Dolan, a transfer to College Park who spent his undergraduate career at Binghamton. Dolan is both experienced and good; he’s started 29 games in his career and was named the America East Defensive Player of the Year last season with the Bearcats. So, the Terps are turning to a solid veteran presence in goal, albeit one who is new to their program this season.
Is there any advantage to be had playing Maryland in their first game without their backstop? There could be, as there’s simply no replacing one of the best goalies in the country, but Gait doesn’t see it that way. He said this week that his scouting report doesn’t really change no matter who’s in net:
“See the white of the net. Be deceptive, and finish it”.
Perhaps the biggest advantage to the timing of this matchup for ‘Cuse is the fact that it’s taking place so early in the season.
Maryland, who had an all-time great team last year that went undefeated on their way to winning the national title, lost a ton off last season’s roster, particularly on offense. The Terps lost their top five scorers from that team, most significantly last year’s Tewaaraton winner, Logan Wisnauskas.
Replacing all that production and experience on offense has been a struggle for them so far, hence their sloppy, seven-goal performance last weekend against Loyola. They shot poorly (7-of-42) and turned the ball over 22 times.
The individual pieces are certainly there, with players like Daniel Kelly, Kyle Long, Owen Murphy and Daniel Maltz, but they’re just struggling to come together in the early going for a completely retooled Maryland offense. As John Tillman put it:
“A lot of new parts and a lot of guys in new roles. I think in certain cases, maybe shot selection and shot placement, maybe some guys tried to do too much. Maybe some guys tried to do too little. And just trying to kind of get back and look at it, talking to our guys as an opportunity to learn and grow. Even if we won that game, we’d look at it the same way”.
I have absolutely no doubts that Tillman and his staff will eventually get this group moving in the right direction, which is why playing them in just their third game of the season is a positive for Gait and the Orange.
If we were going to have to come up against the current standard-bearer program of the sport anyway, let’s make it early rather than late. It’s still going to be an incredible challenge and step-up in competition as this young ‘Cuse team hits the road for the first time, but it’s also an incredible opportunity, as Gait put it this week:
“They’re the standard for college lacrosse the last 5-10 years. They’ve been to multiple final fours. It’s right where we want to be. To get there, you have to go through the teams that have done it. This is a great opportunity for us”.
But is it great timing? Only time will tell.