Lacrosse Notebook: Scouting Denver

The top-seeded Syracuse men's lacrosse will battle No. 4 seed Denver in the Orange's first trip to championship weekend since 2009. The full scouting report on the Pioneers inside.

Denver has played Syracuse three times before and has never beaten the Orange. The two will meet for the fourth time Saturday at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia at 5 p.m. A few notes on this Pioneer team provided below:

By the numbers: 11

That's 11 National Championships to be exact between these two legendary coaches. Denver head coach, Bill Tierney, accounts for six titles – all with Princeton – while Syracuse head coach John Desko has five on his resume.

Different halves: It really is amazing how a five-goal deficit can be erased off the board in a matter of minutes – just ask Denver. The ebb and flow of the game shifted dramatically in the second for the Pioneers when it found itself on the backend of a breathtaking come-from-behind victory against North Carolina. Here is the breakdown of the two totally different halves:

First half:

•For Denver, defense was clearly the problem. The Pioneers opened up in a man-to-man defense and seemed to get lost in the shuffle, whether it was not sliding or helping, it felt the burn early from North Carolina's attack. The Tar Heels scored six straight goals before Denver's Colin Scott knotted one to stop the bleeding.

•To add on top of defense, its substituting was out-of-whack as well. There was a time in particular where the Tar Heels created a turnover, started a transition fast break when the Pioneers were in the middle of switching goalies. For North Carolina, that was one of the easiest goals all season.

•In terms of shots on goal, Denver was getting good looks; however, the team was just not connecting early on, hitting the pipe six times in the first half.

Second half:

•The turning point of this game came at the start of the fourth quarter when North Carolina dealt itself a bad hand with two penalties. Denver seized its 6-on-4 man-up opportunity with a goal and thus cut the deficit to 10-8. The defense at this point has settled down and Faus has gotten into an even better rhythm in crunch time.

•The Pioneers continued to shoot good shots, this time penetrating and finding the seams of the North Carolina defense. The team ended up outscoring the Tar Heels 8-2 in the second half.

Denver's goalie situation: The Pioneers have the luxury of implementing a two goalie system in sophomore Ryan LaPlante and junior Jamie Faus. LaPlante normally starts the first two quarters of the game while Faus occupies the goal in the second half.

However, on Sunday, LaPlante got off to a rough start and Tierney decided to substitute Faus in with 5:24 left in the first quarter. Faus was solid in the net and turned away several shots -– 11 to be exact -- in the second half to help his team mount the comeback.

For Tierney, the rough start by LaPlante on Sunday is no reason to make a sudden goalie change:

"We've had two games this year where we've broken out of our mold," Tierney said in a teleconference on Tuesday, "one was when Ryan LaPlante started against Loyola and was playing lights out and Jamie Faus came up to me and said, 'Coach, you should leave Ryan in. He's really seeing the ball.' That turned into a great victory with Ryan having 18 saves. The other day (against North Carolina) wasn't really so much about Ryan to be honest. ... Pulling your goalie, it's tough on the young man who's in there, but the team knows that something's up. Jamie went in there and did an amazing job, but it wasn't two minutes after the game that we went right to Ryan and said, 'You're starting next weekend.'"

Scoring efficiency, offense as a whole: Denver is ranked fifth in the country in country, averaging just under 13 goals a game and shooting 62 percent on the season.

Tierney admits that the credit has to go to the players as well as Matt Brown, one of Denver's assistant coaches:

"First, credit has to go to the players," Tierney said. "They're a great group of young me. Secondly, Matt Brown, my young assistant coach, he just does an amazing job. We spend a lot of time shooting, but we also spend a lot of time with our guys on decision-making. ... We talk about playing the game fast but playing it smart as well. We have some box lacrosse guys, some Canadian guys that do a lot of our shooting, and they're usually shooting at a 4-by-4 (foot) goal so I think for some of them, the 6-by-6 (goal) looks like they're throwing into the ocean from the shore."

Those Canadian guys that Tierney is referring to are senior midfielder, Cameron Flint; sophomore midfielder, Wesley Berg; and junior midfielder, Jeremy Noble. The Pioneers, to say the least, have a deadly midfield – a skilled group of players with superior dodging ability. I hate to beat a dead horse to death, but this is where the health of Syracuse's defensive midfielder, Steve Ianzito, is big. His status is still questionable for Saturday's contest.

A majority of Denver's offense is a replication of the box game – a lot of pick and rolls and continuous subbing on the fly.

A breakdown of the Canadian prodigies:

•Cameron Flint: 36 goals, 14 assists.

•Wesley Berg – 56 goals, 16 assists.

•Jeremy Noble –11 goals, six assists (Hampered by an injury for most of the season, Noble has missed nine games and has somewhat underachieved this year contribution wise. In last year's quarterfinal game, Noble had 10 goals.)

Eric Adamson – while he isn't Canadian, the sophomore is considered part of the "Big Four" in terms of scoring and has 25 goals and 13 assists on the year.

Eric Law – 40 goals, 35 assists. The Colorado native was at the right spot at the right time on the crease when his teammate, Eric Adamson's shot hit North Carolina's goalie and landed right at his feet. The garbage shot was the eventual game winner with 13 ticks left to go in the fourth quarter.

What is the difference between box lacrosse and field lacrosse you ask? Well, for starters, box lacrosse is played in an arena – think hockey rink. The quarters are a lot smaller so the emphasis on stick skills is highlighted. For Canadian players, particularly the players on Denver's roster, this is where they shine.

Clearing statistic: Glancing down the Pioneers' statistical categories, something caught my eye -- Opponents are clearing close to 94 percent. Such a high percentage means one thing: Denver's ride is non-existent. This is good news for Syracuse as it relies heavily on the smart play goalie, Dominic Lamolinara in the clearing game. As mentioned above, the on-the-fly substitution for Denver was a disaster at some parts of the game, specifically early on. North Carolina took advantage found the back of the net in transition. I see Syracuse capitalizing on this part of the game.

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