NCAA Lacrosse Tournament Participant: Syracuse

via assets.espn.go.com

Tournament Seed: 1

First-Round Opponent: Siena (May 15, 7:30)

2011 Record: 14-1

Conference: Big East

Last Tournament Appearance: 2010

NCAA Championships: 11*

Four Notable Players: John Galloway (G); Joel White (LSM); JoJo Marasco (A); Stephen Keogh (A).

Downloadable Tempo-Free Profile: Syracuse

Do you think that the Orange are ready for the 2011 post-season?  No?  Would you be interested in hearing John Galloway's opinion on that?  No problem; The Post-Standard has you covered:

“We had our aspirations,” Galloway said back in January when camp opened. “We didn’t tell a lot of people, but we said we’re going to go four-for-four. So to lose last year really burned inside. But you know what? Three out of four ain’t bad.”

There are few things more dangerous than a motivated Syracuse lacrosse team.  Kim Jong-Il getting his hands on things that are likely to explode is one example, but the Orange looking to fill out its trophy case is a close second.

WHAT SYRACUSE DOES WELL

The Syracuse lacrosse tradition is often defined by a "Fun and Gun" offense featuring some of the best players ever to handle the bean: The Gaits, the Powells, Tom Marechek, Tim Nelson, and on and on and on.  The 2011 iteration of Orange lacrosse, however, is defined by defense, a hard-nosed unit that brings a pervasive nasty streak to every game it plays.

The close defense is a monster, featuring John Lade, Tom Gaudagnolo, and Brian Megill.  Together, they're equal part intimidation and and dominating skill.  In the defensive midfield you have Joel White at the pole -- a man that is as versatile as any to ever step foot between the lines -- with Tim Harder and Kevin Drew providing primary short-stick support.  In the back end to clean up the mess and trigger transition opportunities is Galloway, only the winningest goalie in the collegiate game.

This unit is deep, talented, and serves as the backbone to a team that has only tasted defeat once on the year.

'CUSE DEFENSE: THE CRUSHING DESTROYER
METRIC VALUE RANK AVG.
Defensive Possessions Per Game 33.25 32 33.73
Adjusted Defensive Efficiency 20.75 2 28.22
Shots Per Defensive Possession 0.84 2 1.00
Defensive Effective Shooting Percentage 26.10% 12 28.83%
Defensive Assist Rate 9.16 1 15.41
Strength of Schedule -- Opposing Offenses 29.21 10 28.16
Man-Down Conversion Rate 19.64 2 31.48
Clearing Percentage 91.34% 1 82.69%
  • As Syracuse has struggled at the dot this season, the Orange have played a large number of defensive possessions on the season.  Additionally, because of Syracuse's overall strength as a team, opponents have often attempted to increase the length of Orange defensive possessions, patiently working the ball until an opportunity arises -- through a Syracuse mistake or otherwise -- to attack.  This is a testament to the team's defensive depth: Even when faced with circumstances that should wear down the team's defensive unit, the Orange have prevailed in extremely efficient ways.
  • There are two gigantic factors feeding into Syracuse's top-ranked adjusted defensive efficiency value: 1) The Orange are relentlessly hounding opponents, limiting good looks and forcing turnovers; and 2) Galloway is stopping all kinds of stuff that is coming his way.
  • On the first point: Syracuse's pressure defense is a destructive machine.  Lade is a functional blanket, suffocating opposing players until they're worthless and weak.  Megill is an intimidation factor, knocking opposing offensive players off of their dodges and keeping guys off of the crease.  Joel White is an artist at the takeaway, generating (on his own) about five takeaways for every 100 defensive possessions that Syracuse plays.  Syracuse's short-stick midfielders do a great job a positioning, pushing away opponents from preferred shooting locations on the run.  When you total this up -- sticks on opponents' hands, solid body positioning, a eye toward off-ball movement, the ability to generate turnovers, and crease play that eliminates doorstep attempts -- you have a defense that eliminates shot attempts and forces opponents into impotent one-on-one play. This is the beauty of Leland Rogers' defense, a force that is only approached by a handful of other teams. 
  • On the second point: John Galloway is a pretty nice defensive insurance policy, no?  The senior netminder holds a 56.3 save percentage, which is solid but a little below his potential.  Galloway isn't charged with closing defensive possessions, however: only about 28 out of every 100 Orange defensive possessions require Galloway to make a save.  Galloway is there to clean up the mess and handle long-range attempts from poor shooting positions, something he is more than capable of doing.  In short, Galloway can make a stop, but if he's making a ton of stops its because there is a structural flaw occurring with the six guys in front of him as Galloway's role on the team isn't to end defensive possessions (that responsibility is spread among the rest of the defensive unit). 
  • The biggest value Galloway provides the Syracuse defense is when he does make a save. There isn't a guy in the country that is better on the clearing outlet pass.  When you look at Syracuse's clearing rate -- tops in the country -- you can attribute it in large measure to Galloway's ability to guide the bean into streaking midfielders' crosses.

WHAT SYRACUSE DOES POORLY

Stop Rob Pannell?

Anyway, when a team goes 14-1 and its only loss comes on a night when three of its most influential players were sent to the sideline, there aren't too many areas to expose as questionable.  I'm going to highlight two and utilize four metrics.

TWO PROBLEMS, NEITHER DEBILITATING
METRIC VALUE RANK AVG.
Face-Off Percentage 49.23 33 49.79
Extra-Man Opportunity Conversion Rate 26.42 46 31.87
Extra-Man Opportunity Reliance 0.08 57 0.13
Extra-Man Opportunity Per Possession 0.10 49 0.11
  • It's May.  Syracuse still isn't winning draws and that likely isn't going to change as the tournament looms.  Jeremy Thompson is the Orange's primary guy on the draw, winning about 52% of his attempts on the season.  To keep him fresh (he also plays on Syracuse's first-line midfield), Chris Daddio often spells Thompson; Daddio is winning around 49% of his attempts.  The Orange's lack of ability at the dot this year is one of the biggest reasons why Syracuse is playing so many defensive possessions per 60 minutes of play.  While this Orange weakness doesn't necessarily doom Syracuse's chances for a title, it does limit the team's ability to really run up the score or protect a lead without exposing their defense. 
  • There's a feeling in the Salt City that Syracuse's inability to score on the man-up is a huge problem for John Desko.  I just don't see it.  Only 12 teams in the country are on the man-up less than the Orange.  So, despite the fact that Syracuse has been pretty poor with the extra attacker (and you'd like to take advantage of those opportunities), it isn't really impacting the Orange's offensive success: The team is still 13th-nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency.  Syracuse is converting at a high clip when they have the ball, they're just not doing it with the man-up.  The Orange thrives more on transition and unsettled opportunities (and, to another degree, in the six-on-six), more than with the personnel imbalance.

OUTLOOK

National title contender.  There's no question about it.  If the Orange gets hot from the dot, they may run roughshod through the entire tournament.  If Syracuse continues to struggle at the "X," they could get themselves into a little bit of trouble.

* The NCAA has vacated Syracuse's 1990 title.  The university still recognizes the championship.  That's going to make for a tense cocktail hour.

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