Let's not even call this game a regular season game. Instead, let's consider this game a Tournament exhibition game. Saturday's match will have no bearing on whether or not #1/1 Syracuse Orange or #13/12 Colgate Raiders make the NCAAT; both already have bids. This game is purely about seeding.
Coming into 2015, the expectations for the Colgate Raiders were generally low. The Patriot League Coaches' Preseason Poll had the Raiders finishing fifth in the conference. Instead, Colgate finished 6-2 in the conference and went on to win the Patriot League Tournament as the #2 seed.
What Colgate Is Playing for
Colgate will be an unseeded Tournament team. Remember, the NCAA Committee must take into account geography and travel. The Committee is mandated by the NCAA to limit the number of flights needed to play the play-in, first round, and quarterfinal games. A game requires a flight if the away team has to travel further than 400 miles. Because of this mandate, the Committee is somewhat hamstrung in how it seeds teams. The Raiders won't have to be a part of a play-in game because it won't have one of the four lowest RPIs amongst all Conference Champions. Therefore, Colgate will not play the #1 or #2 seed. The Albany Great Danes will most likely be an unseeded team and should play that 8th seed, probably facing Brown or another Ivy League Team. This could leave Colgate to take on the #7 seed, which could either be the Virginia Cavaliers or the Maryland Terrapins. That being said, playing UVA would require Colgate to take a flight, while College Park is located within that 400-mile radius, making Maryland the most likely candidate of the two if the Committee wants to save the "flight" games for the games involving Denver, Ohio State and Notre Dame. If, however, Colgate was to beat Syracuse it could twist the Committee's arm into placing Colgate against the #8 seed.
What Syracuse Is Playing for
Following the ACC Tournament, we all were talking about how the Orange have pretty much wrapped up the fist seed in the NCAAT. I think most people have come around on that notion, and I am willing to say definitively that if SU loses to Colgate, it will not be the #1 seed, and I think most of you reading this will agree. If the Orange loses this game, I have to think it will be seeded in the #2 spot with the Notre Dame Fighting Irish moving up. To be honest, I might actually prefer SU at the number two seed, depending on how the 4-6 seeds are set; it really hinges on whether you would rather play Duke or UNC in the final four.
This will be the 56th game between these CNY foes, and Syracuse has the all-time series edge at 44-11-1. The casual fan may not think much of Saturday's matchup, but let's not get too comfy. In 2007 and 2008 SU had back-to-back losses to the Raiders. In '07 the Orange fell 5-12 in a season which most would rather forget. The 2007 Orange reached an awful 5-8 record in which SU failed to make the post-season. The following year Syracuse dropped the Colgate game 11-12, but on a positive note the Orange did win the National Championship that year... so maybe a loss is a good omen? Anyway, with the exception of those two years, these games really haven't been that competitive over the long term; since 1976, SU is 10-2 versus Colgate.
Last season, Syracuse beat the Raiders 19-6. Bobby Wardwell had four saves and zero goals against in just over 17 minutes of time in net. Three players had a hat trick, including Kevin Rice who put up 7 points.
Keys to the Game for Syracuse
- Sit Ben Williams after the first period
- Go hip side high on Brandon Burke or take bouncers that finish in the upper, top-half of the cage; going low-to-high may also be a winner
- Run the offense from behind and utilize the cutters
- No need for the outside shots, Burke can eat those up; dodge and pass all day
- Sit Ben Williams after the first period
- Dodging from behind the cage will work, the SU attack have the ability to get a step on these long-poles and can easily beat on the crease curl
- Multiple quick passes will disrupt this slow Raider defense
- Be ready on the first slide, Colgate is primarily a dodging team
- Challenge Ryan Walsh on the deep ball, he has a strong outside shot, but with his big frame he is less of a threat on the dodge; when Walsh has the ball force him to make that inside pass or attack his stick if he tries to run
- And finally... sit Ben Williams after the first period
This is a team that likes to dodge a lot, so it will be a good warm-up for the Orange defense that looked horrendous on the slides last weekend. Senior Ryan Walsh, named to the 2014 Tewaaraton Trophy Watch List, has 45 points on the season and is a 2015 first team all-conference selection. He is currently third in career points at Colgate with 198, needing just two more to reach second. In addition, Walsh is second on Colgate's all-time goal scoring list with 134 and tied for seventh on Colgate's all-time assist list. Walsh has a cannon of a shot if you give him room from deep. Put pressure on him as he has the most turnovers on the team with 27. Make him force a pass inside, or better yet make him run. Walsh leaves his stick in a vulnerable position when he moves with the ball and is susceptible to an easy stick check.
Chase Wittich is Colgate's best crease player. He has 14 goals and seven assists in thirteen games played. Wittich has started the last seven games, taking over for Kevin Adams who had just four goals through the first seven games. As the Patriot League Rookie of the Year, Anthony Abbadessa has started every game this year. He leads his team with a .431 shot percentage and a .765 shots on goal percentage. With 22 goals and 15 assists on the year, Abbadessa can be very dangerous.
The defensive midfield is pretty weak for this team, meaning his could be a big day for Hakeem Lecky and Henry Schoonmaker. Matt Clarkson, Colgate's second first team all-conference player, may be the best feeder on this team, but he also has a pretty nasty shot. Also watch out for second team all-conference selection, Cameron Williams. The junior can be hot and cold, but when he's on he can be explosive. He is a traditional dodger and has 25 goals on the year. In Colgate's two games versus the Army Black Knights, Williams totaled seven goals but has been held to one or fewer goals in seven games.
Peter Donato rounds out the first midfield line. His only start in 2014 came against Syracuse. In that game he was held to just one shot, but this year, as a sophomore, Donato has picked up 16 goals, including a hat trick against the Boston University Terriers.
Last year Peter Marchetto went 1-5 versus the Orange. As a sophomore, he is the go to FOGO for the Raiders, but has just a .399 faceoff winning percentage, and he will be going against Ben Williams, one of the best faceoff guys in the country. Marchetto has only had above a .500 winning percentage in two games this year, against Lafayette and Bucknell. I would expect to see a lot of Cal Paduda in Saturday's game, as the Orange probably won't need him against the 65th worst faceoff team in division I, and, more importantly, won't want to risk injuring Williams in an almost meaningless game.
Brandon Burke can make the saves on those deep shots, but his defense has a tendency to give up a lot of in-close looks, and opportunities dodging from behind cage. Inside passing will be key against this team, as a large portion of the goals given up have been on one touch, or quick stick shots from a cutting offensive player. Groundballs will also be big; Colgate allows a lot of loose balls in its offensive zone, look for SU to have some good offensive opportunities when the ball hits the turf inside the box.
The first defender is Matt Yeager and is the leader of this defensive unit. Yeager started all 15 games his sophomore yea but secured just one start in his junior year. Nevertheless, he was named to the second team all-conference list. The senior has 22 groundballs and 15 caused turnovers. Canadian native, Leo Stouros has picked up 25 groundballs and caused eight turnovers, including a season high three versus Navy. Stouros has also turned the ball over seven times, so if he snags a groundball, the SU offense should attack him on the ride. Junior John Baker is a second year starter on this defense and has 29 groundballs and eight caused turnovers.
Brandon Burke will take the cage against Syracuse on Saturday. The Burk family is a goalie producing clan with three brothers who all played net for division I teams. Brandon's brother Jordan, a standout goalie at Brown, was the 2009 USILA Goalie of the Year, a 2009 Tewaaraton Trophy Finalist and currently plays for the Boston Cannons of the MLL. Brandon's other older brother, Steven, played for Johns Hopkins.
Named to the second team all-conference list, Brandon currently has a .533 save percentage and an 8.11 goals against average which is good enough for 11th in the country. That being said, the youngest Burke faces the 44th most shots in division one, meaning his defense doesn't ask him to make a ton of saves; this will not be the case against Syracuse when he will get his biggest test of the year. Last year versus the ‘Cuse, Burke gave up 17 goals while making eight saves in 45 minutes of play. Burke is excellent at getting down on low shots. In fact, from what I've seen, he's so much more confident on the low shots that he has a tendency to drop down to the ground early. Worse than him cheating low, when he goes down he drops down onto both legs instead of going down like a baseball player would for a groundball. What this does is it makes him completely useless if the player throws a fake as it opens up a large portion of the upper half of the cage. Furthermore, he can be beaten on bounce shots due to his early move to the ground. If a player can place the bounce high on the crease it makes it very difficult for Burke to try and get back on his feet to make the save.
The Orange will visit Colgate on Saturday at 3:30 pm. The game can be seen on the CBS Sports Network and heard on WTKW 99.5 FM. Of course you can also follow me @Orangelax for updates throughout the game.