WAKE UP FELLAS WE FINALLY HERE! IN D ANNAPOLIS!
The Annapolis bracket is going to be pretty wild. First up will be the Syracuse Orange vs. the Johns Hopkins Blue Jays followed by the Maryland Terrapins vs. the North Carolina Tar Heels. A Naval Academy official indicated to me that they are expecting over 10,000 fans on Sunday, and obviously there should be big showing from the Maryland and Hopkins fan bases, after all, you do know we are in the Maryland. It is going to be a great day of lacrosse, and I will be hitting all the big crab spots before the game so give a shout if you happen to see me!
I'll be honest, I'm nervous. I'm real nervous, and if you saw how well Hopkins performed in its 19-7 win over the Virginia Cavaliers last week then you are probably nervous too. Adding to the nerves is the fact that this is THE rivalry game, so anything can happen. These two teams have matched up in so many classic games, and I can only think that this weekend will only add to the lore. I won't bore you with a ton of statistics but there is one I want to bring up. Since the Tournament started in 1971, Hopkins and ‘Cuse have faced each other twice in one season a total of nine times, this being the tenth. In those nine seasons, Hopkins has taken the regular season game six times but Syracuse has taken the Tourney game seven times. When winning the regular season game, Syracuse has gone on to beat Hopkins in the Tournament two of three times.
For the Orange, the second midfield line has really started to come into its own, especially Jordan Evans who put up five goals against Marist;
"We have been waiting for him to break out," said Coach Desko following the win over Marist, "so I think it's been perfecting timing and now I think teams scouting us are going to have to pay a lot of attention to that second midfield group."
Evans is now playing without the brace on his knee and he has mentioned that it has improved his overall movement and especially his lateral movement. Kevin Rice has not had a great career against Hopkins only picking up two goals in three games, so watch him to see if he can change this. This week the defense will have quite a challenge with Hopkins who moves the ball very quickly. UVA found themselves down early due to poor communication and bad movement on the slides. Peter Macartney addressed defense's communication after the Marist game:
"Well we put a lot of emphasis on off-ball defense and communication during the week because that's one of the areas we need improvement of, so they started doing things that we had to adjust to but I thought you know, starting with Bob, you know getting the communication going I thought we really made some strides today and you know we'll watch film and get better as we go."
The Jays put 16 shots on net through 37 plus minutes and scored 16 times, making Matt Barrett look more like an incompetent rookie rather than the ACC Goalie of the Year. That is scary, especially for me since I've been singing Barrett's praises for the last few weeks. What's even scarier is that the Hopkins attack line had nine goals and 15 points in the game. Compare that to the Jays loss to Syracuse in March when the attack combined for five goals and ten points. What is so impressive about this team is the ball movement; Hopkins is eighth in points per game, eighth in assists per game, and the ninth most goals per game in the country. On average, the Jays only have three goals per game that aren't assisted.
Simply put, the Hop were scary offensively against UVA, just taking advantage of the Virginia defense. This is not good news for a Syracuse defense which has looked weak down the stretch. I told you how good these guys are on the feeds, so slides will be more important in this game than any other. Syracuse had a disastrous first quarter against Hopkins earlier in the season, allowing five goals. The Orange cannot give up an early, big lead to this team again as I'm not sure this time around that SU may not recover as easily.
"Now it looks like they've hit their stride and are playing well at both ends of the field so we've got to be prepared, it's not easy to beat someone twice in one year so we know they're going to be fired up," said Coach Desko, "I've got to get it in these guys heads this is a different team we're playing this time around."
And how true is that? This is most definitely not the same team that the Orange beat earlier in the year.
What to Watch for Offensively from Hopkins
- Inverted Offense - Hopkins played a lot of what we call an inverted offense. In a normal set up, an offense will put two attackmen above goal line extended and keep one attackman below the cage to run the offense. This is usually what you will see from Syracuse. In an inverted offense, the team puts two attackmen below goal line extended and leaves one in front of the crease. Hopkins played a lot of the invert against UVA, something we really didn't see them use against Syracuse in the regular season. The Hop scored early using this offense by having one of the attackmen set a pick for the ball holder behind the net and having the ball holder drive up the crease. When a team runs that type of play in the invert, the hope is that the ball holder can get a step on the picked defender and find himself open for a shot as he curls up the crease. Slides become very important when this happens for the defense, especially if the defending long-pole finds himself a step behind the dodger. Normally it will be the crease defender's job to slide towards to the ball; something Virginia had a lot of trouble with. UVA was so vulnerable against this because of a lack of communication. The defense needs to talk to each other and communicate when the slide needs to come. Compounding the problem, we saw a lot of backs to the ball from the UVA defense which obviously isn't helpful. This could be a problem for SU. On several occasions this year, we have seen the Syracuse defense completely lose composure and fall apart when it comes to slides and verbal communication. The communication part of this starts with Wardwell.
- Wing Shots - Hopkins likes to get its offense open shots on the wing. This is an area Ryan Brown is extremely dangerous in. A few times versus UVA, Hopkins used a midfielder to dodge into the box at an angle. As the midfielder moves towards one side of the box, the defense begins to cheat towards the ball-side of the field and the offensive wing player on the off-ball side of the field cheats away from the center of the box, giving him separation from his defender when he receives the pass from the dodger. The dodger then reverses the ball movement towards that open wing player who is then open for a shot due to the movement of the defense. For a guy like Brown, who has such a rifle of a shot, this is the perfect attempt.
- Ball Movement - We already have touched upon how good these guys are at moving the ball, but I just want to stress again that this is one of the most dangerous feeding offenses in the game. The off-ball movement for the Jays was outstanding on Sunday, so again, the Syracuse long-poles will need to be ready to move.
- Go Low - Statistically Matt Barrett had one of the worst games in college lacrosse for any goalie this year. I mean the kid did not make a game through over 37 minutes of play. Still though, if you watch the game and see that shots that were taken, it's hard to blame him for a lot of those goals. Hopkins must have seen something in the tape because over and over we saw the Blue Jays shooters go low on him, and beat him. This is a problem for me. I don't think Bobby Wardwell is particularly good going low. One of the major difference between Wardwell and Barrett, in terms of how they get down on the ball, is that Barrett utilizes a hockey drop down much more often than Bobby, where he hits the ground on both legs and finishes either sitting or kneeling. While you will see Wardwell on the ground from time to time in such a position, he often will stay on his feet. Wardwell is slow to get his stick down and on those high to low shots he will often try to make a leg save as opposed to getting his stick down. In the first matchup, the Jays beat Wardwell on stick side high shots multiple times from deep, but found most of their success going towards that five-hole area.
What to Watch for Defensively from Hopkins
- Eric Schneider - He was as good as he's been all year against UVA. Against calls for his replacement, Pietramala has stuck with the graduate student in net for most of the year. Versus UVA, he grabbed 14 saves and allowed just five goals. If he stays hot, we are in a lot of trouble. The key here is to avoid building his confidence early. I would rather the Orange attack miss the net than allow him to make an easy save. Schneider is good high, so change levels on him and PLEASE throw fakes. Schneider is another goalie who is weak on low shots. In the regular season game, Syracuse scored most of its goals going low on the Hopkins netminder, so expect to see a lot of low shots from the Orange.
- Penetration - UVA had a lot of problems penetrating the Hopkins defense. The Cavs really spread its offense out, probably looking for cutters to spark the offense. Unfortunately for UVA, the Jays did a great job not giving up any good feeding opportunities. The Hopkins defense isn't nearly the best group SU has seen this year, so I would prefer to see the Orange put a lot of traffic in front of the net.
- Orange Attack - There is some question as to the best attack line in college lacrosse, but it is safe to say that the four best attack lines are all playing this weekend. Gun to my head, I would put SU tied with UNC for the most dangerous attack groupings. The way these three compliment each other in unbelievable. I often find myself wishing the Syracuse defense had the same level of communication that the offense exhibits. I expect Randy Staats to have a big game, but the offense is so dangerous that the Hopkins defense may have its hands full.
- Rice's Retaliation - The TNIAAM staff had a conversation today about some of the former SU defenseman. It was noted by Kevin Wall, Brian Tahmosh and myself that this team lacks an enforcer on the defensive side of the field, a guy like Brian McGill who had no problem throwing big checks and someone who visibly stuck up for his teammates. While the defense may lack this attitude sometimes, the offense may have a player like this. Nobody has taken more cheap shots than Kevin Rice this year, and we have seen his hot headedness get ahold of him on several occasions. Against Notre Dame, for example, it was Rice who got into the defense's face after Hakeem Lecky scored and was clearly, and deliberately, stepped on. More recently against Marist, Rice went after a Marist defender when he took a very big cheap shot after scoring an early goal. Later on in the match he got into the face of the Red Fox's faceoff crew after Ben Williams took a hit from behind. For that play Rice received a 30 second conduct penalty and a pretty good tongue lashing from Coach Desko. "Yea I mean it was a chippy game and you know Ben's our money maker so I don't want to see him get cheap shotted so I think it just sort of set me off a little bit but you know I got to keep my head more than that," said Rice of the play. Don't get me wrong, a penalty like that could really hurt this team in a tight game, but I love the fire. I like that he doesn't take those kinds of shots sitting down, but I mostly I like that he stands up for his teammates and is willing to protect one of his team's best players. It's more than telling the other team that you aren't going to take that, it's about comradery and letting your teammates know that you will stick up for them.
Junior attackman Ryan Brown leads the Blue Jays in goals and points with 58 and 70 respectively. After starting off his career at midfield, Brown made the move to attack his sophomore year and as a natural midfielder he plays well at the top of the box. Last season Brown stuck eight in the back of the net against Syracuse, two coming off quick restarts. This kid is known for his killer shot from out deep that can burn goalies but he can also find open space on the crease and get free for a quick goal off of a pass inside. Syracuse cannot give him any room to breathe and against the zone defense he can find the seam easily and get room to hit the long shots. He is one of the premier attackmen in division I.
As the active leader in career points and career assists for the Jays, Wells Stanwick has had a monstrous career; the Johns Hopkins record book is littered with his name. Wells is the younger brother of former Hopkins standout Steele Stanwick and the older brother of current Blue Jay Shack Stanwick. The middle Stanwick likes to play from behind the net, and Hopkins does a lot of picking for him in an effort to get him some room to roll up the crease to make a pass.
Shack Stanwick has gotten two starts at midfield this year, but ended up replacing Wilkins Dismuke on the starting attack line. In his freshman year, Shack has put up 23 goals and 21 assists placing him fourth on the team in goals and second in assists. He has an excellent ability to shoot off balance and on the run coming up from below the cage.
Connor Reed is traditionally a very good dodger from which he can create massive one-on-one issues for defenses, but he doesn't put a lot of his shots on cage. Reed is most dangerous when he passes coming through on the dodge. He has the ability to draw the slide and get the pass off to the open man, which is why he had four assists against Duke in the quarterfinals of the 2014 NCAA Tournament and 15 assists in total last year; Syracuse has to be extremely careful of this and must be ready to make the quick second slide anyone who receives a pass from him off of the dodge. This year, Reed got off to a slow start and currently sits with ten goals and 16 assists. Fellow junior, Holden Cattoni had 29 goals and six assists last year. Against Syracuse in the regular season he took ten shots but was had pointless in the game, but he had two goals in the win over Virginia. Freshman Joel Tinney has been a welcome addition to the midfield crew. He has started every game this year totaling 25 goals and nine assists, including three against UVA.
First Team Preseason All-American Michael Pellegrino has for some time locked up the long-stick midfielder position. As a senior, Pellegrino is one of the top LSMs in the country. He has 149 career groundballs and 62 career caused turnovers.
There is a platoon of players that Ben Williams could find himself up against at the faceoff circle. I would expect to see a lot of Hunter Mooreland who is 94-159. Mooreland basically has taken over the starting job from Drew Kennedy. Although Kennedy has a solid .515 faceoff winning percentage, he struggled against UVA going 1-5. Against Syracuse Mooreland went 1-7 while Kennedy went 10-18.
Ever since Robert Enright went down with a knee injury against UNC, LSM Nikhon Schuler has been starting at close defense in his place. While he has played in 44 career games, Schuler got his first start this season and so far has picked up 22 groundballs and made eight caused turnovers. The situation is not optimal for Hopkins. The loss of Enright has left John Kelly as the most experienced defenseman. Starting 15 games last season, Kelly scooped 38 groundballs and caused 12 turnovers. This year he has 35 and 11 respectively. Kelly should be the man on Rice. Playing both LSM and close defense in 2014, sophomore Nick Fields has started every game in 2015 on defense. He has 15 groundballs and 10 caused turnovers.
This is not a team that causes a lot of turnovers, in fact they rank 53rd in D1 in terms of CTs.
Eric Schneider has had a fall from last year. As a graduate student this year, Schneider has a less than stellar .485 save percentage and has allowed 141 goals, most notably giving up 16 goals to Princeton in an overtime game. Although he ranks near the bottom in division I in save percentage and saves per game, he has a very respectable 9.93 goals against average.
The Orange will take on rival Johns Hopkins Blue Jays in the quarterfinals of the NCAA Tournament in Annapolis, MD, on Sunday at 12 pm. The game can be seen on ESPN2 and heard on WTKW 99.5 FM. Of course you can also follow me @Orangelax for updates throughout the game.