The Syracuse Orange have not visited the North Carolina Tar Heels since 1993, but will return again this Saturday to finish out its ACC schedule. Overall, the ‘Cuse is 12-6 against UNC in the all-time series. SU sits at #2 in the nation followed closely by the #4 Tar Heels.
UNC started off the season 9-0 with wins over Johns Hopkins and Denver before being taken down by the Maryland Terrapins. The Tar Heels then began ACC play in which they defeated Duke 15-14 and Virginia 10-6. Just like Syracuse, UNC is guaranteed a top three seed in the ACC Tournament. A win over Syracuse and then the Notre Dame Fighting Irish next week would give the team a one seed while a loss to Syracuse and a win over the Irish would give Syracuse the one seed.
As for Randy Staats, who has missed the last three games with a lower body injury, Coach Desko said Tuesday that he is hopeful Staats will return on Saturday. That's all we know right now.
Let's start with Jimmy Bitter, the leading point scorer on UNC with 61. He has the fifth most points per game and assists per game in division I. Bitter is a very quick attackman and his turn-around shot is fantastic. He can feed fellow offensive players with the best of them. Jimmy is the youngest of six brothers and sisters, including former UNC attackman Billy Bitter. His other brothers played at the US Naval Academy and Williams College and his father was an All-American for the Boston College Eagles.
Joey Sankey is second in points for the Tar Heels and is a dynamic attackman. Sankey likes to play behind the net, and often plays a two man, pick game with Bitter below the goal line extended. Just like Bitter, Sankey is quick, and is sixth in the country in assists per game. Watch for him to try and dodge from the side of the box, get under his defender and roll up the crease to get the ball beyond the goalie. His low stature allows him to sneak around defenders when they play him close.
Standing at 6'2", Luke Goldstock is massive compared to his fellow attackmen. Goldstock is the leading scorer for the Tar Heels with 35 goals. As a group, this attack has 12 caused turnovers; they ride opposing clears hard and Syracuse may have some trouble with that.
One of UNC's best midfielders is senior Chad Tutton. He has a hard outside shot and can get open without the ball, but don't discount him as a dodger.
Then there is Steve Pontrello, brother of Nikko Pontrello. While not a starter, Steve has a cannon of an outside shot and is very comfortable shooting on the run. Patrick Kelly, the second starter at midfield, has five goals and six assists this year as a junior. The long-stick defensive midfielder Ryan Kilpatrick has 10 caused turnovers and 28 groundballs. Kilpatrick plays a lot of wing on the faceoffs as well.
The last couple of weeks we have seen Ben Williams get in a few standoffs with opposing faceoff guys. By "standoff" I mean the two faceoff players came down on the ball at the same time and while on the ground they circle around fighting to clamp the ball. In previous years a player taking the faceoff could shoulder into the opposing player but because of the rule changes this year that would result in a violation. While it is not often that Williams sees this level of quickness on the clamp from the other side of the faceoff X, he may this week against Stephen Kelly. However, Kelly's speed has led to numerous faceoff violations this year. Against the top faceoff guys in the country, Kelly has been ok. Versus Kevin Massa of the Bryant Bulldogs, one of the top FOGOs in the country, Kelly went 8-23 and picked up two violations. Versus Trevor Baptiste of the Denver Pioneers, the number one player in terms of faceoff winning percentage in the country, Kelly went 11-22 with four violations. He goes down in a one knee stance for faceoffs in order to go on the run quickly off of a win to himself, similarly to how Williams starts on the faceoffs.
The defense is led by lockdown defender and sophomore Austin Pifani who leads UNC with 15 caused turnovers. Pifani was named as a second team preseason All-American and a preseason All-ACC selection. UNC is seventh in the country in caused turnovers per game with 8.58. Zach Powers is another close defender for the Tar Heels but can also play long-stick midfielder when necessary. He has 21 groundballs and 12 caused turnovers in 2015. The second best long-pole for UNC is senior, co-captain Jake Bailey. Bailey has 37 groundballs and 13 caused turnovers this year.
Kieran Burke didn't play in the first two games and split time in the next five before taking back the starting position, starting the last five games. Burke made some amazing saves in the game against the Virginia Cavaliers. He has a 10.15 goals against average and a .559 save percentage.
Check out these two sick saves from the first overtime in last year's matchup.
The Orange will visit the North Carolina Tar Heels a week from Saturday at 4:00 pm. The game can be seen on ESPNU and heard on WTKW 99.5 FM. Of course you can also follow me @Orangelax for updates throughout the game.