Coming off the emotional whirlwind of the ACC Tournament, the Syracuse Orange (10-4, 2-3 ACC) will play its final regular season game Saturday against the Colgate Raiders (9-6, 4-4 Patriot League).
Last weekend, it almost seemed like destiny. After losing badly in the regular season to Duke, Syracuse won five straight games and entered the ACC tournament with a head of steam. The Orange was rewarded for its efforts with a chance for revenge against the last team it lost to—the Blue Devils.
In poetic fashion, Syracuse, down four goals in the fourth quarter, rallied to beat Duke on two last-minute goals, including the Dylan Donahue game winner with less than a second on the clock. And at that point, it almost seemed as though the ACC Championship was a foregone conclusion.
But that was not the case.
Like in the conference semifinal against Duke, Syracuse trailed Notre Dame big with little time to go in the fourth. With just under 10 minutes left in the game, Notre Dame held a 15-10 lead. But the Orange would not relent. Four goals later and Syracuse would have at least the opportunity to tie. With time winding down, the ball was in the possession of Kevin Rice, the same player who netted the game-winner against Notre Dame earlier in the season. This time though, the shot was stopped by goalkeeper Conor Kelly and Notre Dame won the ACC Championship.
Now, with the exhilaration and disappointment of the conference final behind it, the Orange has one game left before the NCAA tournament. Here are five things to watch for this Saturday against the Colgate Raiders:
The Goaltender Conundrum
In six straight wins, John Desko gave his goaltenders (Dominic Lamolinara and Bobby Wardwell) even playing time, starting Lamolinara in the first half and playing Bobby Wardwell in the second. But in the conference tournament final against Notre Dame, something made Desko have a change of heart.
In that one, he opted to start Wardwell, who proceeded to give up 14 goals over the course of the first three quarters. When Lamolinara replaced him, he only allowed one goal in the entire fourth.
Now, while it would seem safe to assume Desko made a mistake, it's important to take a closer look. Over the Orange's 14 games, Wardwell's goals against average (11.14) has been better than Lamolinara's (12.93). That being said, reports have already been released that Desko will "probably" return to his previous rotation on Saturday against Colgate and it will likely stay that way as the Orange head into the NCAA Tournament.
Over the weekend, junior attackman Kevin Rice hit the 30-goal mark for the first time in his career after an MVP-caliber weekend. Against Duke and Notre Dame combined, Rice scored four goals and recorded 11 assists for 15 points on the weekend.
On the season, Rice leads the Orange with 69 points and the next closest person to him is Randy Staats with 49. Other than maybe faceoff man Chris Daddio, Rice's all-around game makes him Syracuse's most important player. Look for him to continue his success against Colgate on Saturday and into the NCAA Tournament.
The Syracuse defense needs to improve against the elite teams in the country if the Orange is going to make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament. Against Duke and Notre Dame at the ACC Tournament, the defense allowed a combined 31 goals in two games, simply not good enough, even with the high-offensive output of the "Big Three" contingent of Kevin Rice, Randy Staats and Dylan Donahue. Look for the Syracuse defense to use the game against Colgate as a tune-up.
This won't bode well for Colgate. As it is, the Raiders only score 8.60 goals per game, a rate only better than 12 teams in the entire country. The Syracuse defense having something to prove could make the Raiders' offensive output on Saturday an ugly number.
Because of the disparity of the two teams, along with Syracuse's already outstanding résumé, the game Saturday will have little effect on the bracketology of the NCAA Lacrosse Tournament. That is, assuming Syracuse isn't upset. As of April 29, Inside Lacrosse pinpoints Syracuse as a number one seed in the entire tournament.
If somehow Colgate was to upset the Orange Saturday, Syracuse's seed would probably take a dip, but there's no doubt that no matter what happens, the Orange will play for the NCAA title in the upcoming weeks.
Though Syracuse is a vastly better team than Colgate, it will be a better feel for the Orange if the team could go into the NCAA Tournament with a win as opposed to the bad taste of a conference title loss against Notre Dame.
For Syracuse, the focus on Saturday will be on fixing issues such as strengthening the defense and regaining any lost confidence goalkeeper Bobby Wardwell may have suffered against Notre Dame.