Who: #2 Notre Dame vs. #1 Syracuse Orange
Where: Arlotta Stadium, South Bend, Indiana
When: Noon ET
TV? Yep! ESPNU and the WatchESPN app!
You know that scene in D2: The Mighty Ducks where Team USA gets obliterated by Iceland in their first matchup? I remember a specific sequence where Averman huffs to the bench and says, "They're bigger! They're stronger! They have more facial hair!"
Enter the Syracuse Orange.
On paper, this is as good as any team in the country. To anyone who has seen them play on TV or in person, they are hands down the best team in the nation right now. But are they really?
Let's take a look at what makes them so potent.
Offensively, Syracuse boasts one of the best offenses in the nation, having scored no less than 12 goals in a game. They've methodically shredded some of the top teams in the ACC and elsewhere. Last week, they horrified Duke lacrosse fans by slinging 34 shots at Duke and putting up 13 goals in the first half. Syracuse would go on to win 19-7 but the game was essentially over by the end of the first quarter. And Duke won the whole thing last season! Yikes.
On attack, outside of Notre Dame, Denver and maybe Albany, Syracuse has one of the best attack units in the country. Leading the way are Kevin Rice (15g, 20a), Dylan Donohue (20g, 11a) and Randy Staats (15g, 11a). This trio lights up the scoreboard as well as any top-flight attack unit. All are threats to score and dish, especially when you look at how similar their statlines are. I'm guessing we'll see Landis on Rice and Epple on Donohue, but we'll see by gametime what the Irish cook up. Also worth mentioning: Staats didn't play last week against Duke and Tim Barber (5g, 3a) started in his place.
At midfield, Nicky Galasso (13g, 2a) is the goalscorer while Hakeem Lecky (8g, 5a) and Henry Schoonmaker (7g, 4a) provide the balance. No other middies are really worth mentioning as standouts at the position, namely because Syracuse has gotten into so many blowouts, that their participation chart reads like a Dead Sea Scroll. It's long.
Essentially, Syracuse runs everything through their attack because they get the ball a lot. How is that? Their faceoff specialist, Ben Williams, is among the nation's best. His 68% faceoff win percentage is hilariously good, ranking 4th in the nation. Notre Dame will have to figure this out because the Irish struggled against Christopher May of Ohio State, and the Orange's Williams is even better than May was.
Defensively, Syracuse goes with Sean Young (10gb, 9 caused turnovers), Jay McDermott (8gb, 2 caused turnovers) and Brandon Mullins (8gb, 9 caused turnovers). Young and McDermott are disciplined players, but Mullins is averaging a penalty a game. This is a sound unit that can play ball and can easily keep up with the Irish attack.
In net, Bobby Wardwell has started every game so far for the Orange and has a 7.23 goals against average to show for it. He doesn't really make a lot of saves per game (averaging barely 9 per game) namely because Syracuse is on offense most of the time. Still, Wardwell is a good goalie who has only surrendered double digits in goals once this season.
Like with the last two games, I have feelings of smoke and mirrors with Syracuse, but not as strongly as I felt with Virginia and Ohio State. Those two were solely based on scheduling. Syracuse is something else entirely. With the #2-ranked strength of schedule by Laxpower, Syracuse has no problem in that department. Of their 7 wins on the season, 5 were by ranked teams.
So what is tickling me funny? Location. Location. Location.
See, Syracuse is 7-0. Six of those wins were at home. In the Carrier Dome. Indoors. The other win was over a St. Johns squad played in Kennesaw, Georgia at the Cobb County Lacrosse Classic and it's worth noting that St. Johns had a 4-0 lead on Syracuse early before the Orange found their mojo and ran away with a 14-6 win.
So we have a team that we all know is good, but will be playing their first true road game against the #2 team in the country. On top of that, the weather is supposed to be in the mid-30's. If I'm the Irish, I don't move this game inside. I keep it outside and make Syracuse have to get used to playing in the cold.
I'm not worried about the Irish handling the Syracuse midfield nor am I worried about our attack finding the net. Putting Mullins in position to commit penalties should be simple enough. In addition, Syracuse really struggled against Hopkins' attack and Notre Dame's is better than them.
My concern is with faceoffs. Syracuse is deadly at the faceoff X and is even moreso with their offensive efficiency. When Syracuse gets the ball, they're gonna score. My hope is that the Irish have an answer to slow down or contain Williams at the X because it was because of Williams that Duke got steamrolled. No one could beat him at faceoffs and Syracuse rolled because of it.
I think that this game will be a lot closer than people think, but I'm sticking with my guns here. I think Syracuse's home field heavy schedule will bite them today. The Irish defense is coming off a shutout performance and I think they can keep their momentum rolling. Syracuse isn't prepared for the cold and comes out a little tight and slow and the Irish take advantage. It might get tight late but I think the Irish hold on and Grace Hall will be lit up Saturday night.
Notre Dame 14 Syracuse 13