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Syracuse men’s lacrosse: Virginia preview and game thread

The Orange continue to fight for their postseason lives in a trip down to Charlottesville for a battle with the top-5 Cavaliers.

Virginia v Syracuse Photo by Rich Barnes/Getty Images

As we enter into late April, the Syracuse Orange men’s lacrosse team finds themselves in a place we didn’t think they’d be just a few weeks ago: still in contention for the NCAA Tournament.

The task is very tall for the Orange to successfully make that push, as they likely need to beat both Virginia and Duke to do so, but for us to even be thinking in those terms speaks to the incredible job the team’s done the past two weeks in ranked wins over Princeton and North Carolina.

Now, the No. 12/13 Orange turn their attention to perhaps their toughest test of the season as they head to Charlottesville for a road battle with the No. 4/3 Virginia Cavaliers.

The game is set for 2 PM and will be shown on ESPNU.

Scouting Virginia

  • All-time series: Tied, 20-20
  • Last meeting: Virginia W, 21-15 on April 23, 2022
  • Virginia this season: 8-3, 2-2 ACC

After starting their season 6-0 and spending the first five weeks of the season ranked No. 1, the Cavaliers are just 2-3 since. That’s mostly because their schedule has really heated up in the last month, and their last five games have gone like this: Maryland (L), Notre Dame (W), Duke (L), North Carolina (W), Duke (L).

Fun lacrosse fact: Virginia has lost 18 regular season games in a row to Duke, a streak that dates back to the year 2004. Crazy!

Speaking of crazy, am I crazy or is the Syracuse--Virginia all-time series always tied? Like, always! I feel like every year when I go look at the matchup history, it’s tied. I know that’s not possible, but it does feel that way, to me at least. Anyway, we know that won’t be the case after today.

Virginia Offense

So, I don’t want to throw too much cold water on this game before we get started, but this is the part where I throw out the important numbers about this UVA team. And let me start by saying that I think Virginia might be one of the worst matchups for this Syracuse team in the entire country because of the combination of their great FOGO and their overwhelmingly talented offense.

FOGO Petey LaSalla, who’s been in college for far too long, is actually having his worst statistical season but is still facing-off at .556 percent (179-of-322). Bottom line is that Petey’s one of the best, most experienced FOGOs in the country, and that’s likely to spell trouble for SU.

What makes LaSalla’s success rate so much more dangerous for the Orange is the fact that he gives the ball off to the best offense in the country, a unit that leads the nation in scoring at 17.82 goals per game and shooting percentage at .384.

The Virginia attack is populated by three of the highest point scorers in the nation in Connor Shellenberger (5.1 PPG), Payton Cormier (5.33 PPG), and Xander Dickson (4.73). The three of them all rank in the top-17 individual scorers in the country.

For a reference point, Joey Spallina leads SU with 4.69 points per game, and Virginia has three players who score more than that on the same offense.

Shellenberger is the quarterback and, as such, is second in the nation in assists per game (3.6). Cormier and Dickson are the goal scorers, and two of the very best at that. Cormier is second in the country (4.22) and Dickson is fourth in the country (3.73) in goals per game.

They’re also two of the most lethal finishers in the nation with Dickson ranking second nationally at .539 and Cormier fourth at .528. That kind of shooting percentage from your two goal scorers with one of the best X attackmen in the country to pull the strings? It’s not difficult to figure out why this is the No. 1 offense in the land.

They’re not alone, either, as UVA has a bunch of studs running out of the box, starting with Vermont transfer Thomas McConvey (20G, 17A). One of the best offensive midfielders in the country, McConvey is a big dude (6’4”, 210) with a dangerous shot. Griffin Schutz (15G, 13A) is another big bruiser out of the midfield at 6’3”, 220. And just for fun, UVA added former Stanford linebacker (yes, linebacker) Ricky Miezan (6’2”, 235) this offseason just to give defensive midfielders that extra headache.

Virginia Defense

While the offense tops the nation, the defense is far less spectacular. The Cavaliers are 51st in the country at scoring defense, surrendering an average of 12.73 goals per game.

So, a talented Syracuse offense that’s coming together more and more as the season goes on has the potential to score IF they can get enough possessions. Even better would be if they can draw penalties to set up their incredible man-up unit, which ranks 4th in the country. The Virginia man-down unit is tied for 59th in the country in shutting down their opponents’ opportunities.

Virginia Ground Balls

It seems like every year, Virginia leads the country in the ground ball department. Petey LaSalla is certainly a big part of that, but it is a true hallmark of a Lars Tiffany-coached team to top the country in scooping up ground balls and playing with that level of effort that seems to consistently outpace their opponents.

In a matchup of two great offenses, face-offs and ground balls will play a huge factor in helping to determine the outcome of this game. Can the Orange find a way to get their offense enough possessions to keep up with the high-powered Virginia offense? If not, they’ll be chasing all afternoon at Klockner.