The 2014 season is months away. Let's punch fate in the face and make wild assumptions about what could be the best 20 teams in the country next year.
Important People: Derek Maltz (A); Scott Loy (M); Brandon Mullins (D); Nicky Galasso (A); Sean Young (D); Jordan Evans (A/M); Matt Harris (LSM)
Formerly Important People: JoJo Marasco (M); Luke Cometti (M); Brian Megill (D); Matt Pratt (SSDM); Steve Ianzito (SSDM); Dave Hamlin (D); Ryan Barber (M)
Final 2013 Poll Positions: Media: 2; Coaches: 2
2013 Record: 16-4 (5-1, Big East)
2013 Snapshot: Kaboom!
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The issue isn't whether possession margin matters -- it does; the issue is how much possession margin matters. Syracuse was able to mitigate many of the problems that are often associated with possession-starvation and possession-generation in 2013 thanks to (1) a stalwart defense that consistently killed defensive opportunities that occurred after faceoff loses, (2) an elite clearing game, and (3) an offensive showcase that was as dangerous and efficient as any in the nation, but the Orange still found itself in difficult circumstances throughout the season -- notably in the national championship game -- due to anemic faceoff play. Syracuse finished last season ranked 40th in opportunity margin per 60 minutes of play (minus-1.39) thanks, in large part, to a faceoff performance that saw the Orange end the year winning just 42.02 percent of their draws (55th nationally). Syracuse has brought in the approximate population of a small Caribbean nation to try and cure its faceoff deficiencies, and if the Orange is unable to find a cat that can win on the whistle somewhere north of 50 percent of the time, Syracuse could encounter a difficult situation in its new league: The ACC will feature four of the best faceoff men in the nation based on 2013 efforts -- Virginia's Mick Parks (53.9 percent), Duke's Brendan Fowler (64.4 percent), Carolina's R.G. Keenan (52.9 percent), and Maryland Charlie Raffa (54.3 percent). Inconsistent efforts against these machines will create increasingly difficult situations for the Orange's offense and defense to overcome, much of it against elite competition. This was a concern in 2013 for Syracuse, but it's an even bigger issue in 2014 given what the Orange are about to face.
A Thousand White Doves
Syracuse is potentially facing the paradox of choice, but that's a good problem to have: The Orange are deep with experienced and high-caliber talent at both ends of the field, a roster that transitions well from a season in which it played on Memorial Monday.
- The attack is loaded with capable options -- Kevin Rice, Billy Ward, Maltz, Galasso, Mike Daniello (if he can return), and Dylan Donahue -- and the skill set in that group is varied and useful. The assets here create lots of combinations for offensive approach, and a handful could run through the box if necessary. The balance that this unit brings is highly manageable from a leverage standpoint.
- The top two midfield lines see Loy, Hakeem Lecky, and Henry Schoonmaker return, but others are necessarily going to figure into the mix -- Evans, Matt Walters, Derek DeJoe, Tom Grimm, Hayes McGinley, whatever attack bumps back to take runs through the box, etc. -- and it is going to take time for the constitution of those lines to develop and for role responsibilities to emerge. However, Schoonmaker became a big presence for the Orange in 2013, Lecky is physically dominant (yet still needs to develop a shot), Loy quietly accounted for 24 points last year, and Evans has all the tools to contribute in an immediate way if put in the right circumstances to succeed. This is a midfield that can work well in support, and that's what makes the Orange dangerous offensively.
- And then there's the Randy Staats, the Onondaga Community College transfer that is concentrated lightning. If he is able to qualify and enroll in the spring, the cat has the juice to see the field in a notable capacity.
- On the defensive end, Syracuse returns lots of parts that Lelan Rogers can mold into another suffocating unit. Mullins has first team All-American potential, Young was an epiphany last season after transferring from Towson, Ryan Palasek is an intriguing option, and Peter McCartney and Harris are coming into their own. Drew Jenkins will get run at short-stick defensive midfield after playing in all 20 of the Orange's games in 2013, and Dominic Lamolinara and Bobby Wardwell -- even with their individual faults -- bring experienced play to the crease. The unit may need a little bit of time to develop early in the season, but there's enough indicia here to believe that Syracuse is going to be a tough team to beat in the defensive end.
The Stars, The Moon, Six Feet Under
The Stars: Syracuse wins its 12th NCAA Tournament championship (11th according to the reality that the NCAA supposes), turning an already sociopathic fanbase into a more sociopathic group that celebrates in the home city of one of its biggest rivals; those same sociopathic fans call for John Desko's firing in mid-February.
The Moon: The Orange survive the ACC, earning a high seed in The Big Barbecue with eyes toward Championship Weekend; Staats qualifies and electrifies the Carrier Dome, cementing Syracuse as one of the most dangerous offensive teams in the nation; the Orange gets sustainable play out of its short-stick defensive midfielders; Lamolinara or Wardwell cements himself as Syracuse's goalie -- without question -- early in the season.
Six Feet Under: Chemistry does not develop on the offensive end of the field, a unit lost without Marasco and devoid of combinations that work together efficiently; the Orange's faceoff situation does not improve and Syracuse can't overcome it against an elite schedule of opponents; first-round loss in the NCAA Tournament to a team that sociopathic Syracuse fans do not believe exists.