I was talking to a friend this weekend and our conversation turned to the upcoming college lacrosse season. We went through the usual nonsense – who looks like the frontrunners this season, which teams don’t have enough heat on them right now, which players look like cannons with legs, etc. Then the question was asked – “What about Syracuse?”
“I have no idea,” I replied.
“Yes, and never ask me that question again.”
We then talked about the upcoming season of “Archer,” which was just swell.
After 2012 – a season in which the Orange, long an arc-determiner for Division I lacrosse, failed to find any consistency over the course of the spring – I remain decidedly uncertain as to the ceiling for the Orange in 2013. Among programs in its peer group, only Virginia and Princeton will enter this upcoming season with as many questions as Syracuse regarding issues around potential energy turning into kinetic force. The Orange could take a trip to Championship Weekend in Philadelphia in May; the Orange could also explode into a fiery blaze of lost opportunity not unlike a hobo’s trash fire in a dark alley. It would be fairly shocking to see Syracuse not improve on its effort from a season ago – the defensive situation in the Carrier Dome is as strong as any in the country, the new rules in place for 2013 feed into the Syracuse system nicely, and there are lots of seasoned and talented parts dotting the roster – but there are unknowns surrounding Desko’s current iteration of the Orange that should cause people to pump the brakes a little bit on what Syracuse could accomplish this spring.
Here’s some detail on three of the biggest unknowns facing the Orange as the sunrise to their 2013 campaign breaches the horizon.
Here’s what I am absolutely certain about: Derek Maltz is filling one of Syracuse attack spots; he is also very tall, probably requires a tailor to make custom suits for his odd frame, and is one of the best finishers in the Big East. Here’s what I am totally uncertain about: Everything else, including the type of tailored shirts that Maltz prefers.
As things stand now, some combination of Billy Ward, Kevin Rice, and Nicky Galasso will likely fill two of the three other starting attack spots (with the fourth attackman not completely lost in the shuffle). Each brings a different element of play to the position (although there is some crossover traits) – Ward is a bowling ball dodger similar to Joey Sankey at North Carolina but not as dominate; Rice, like Ward is a little undersized, has dodging ability but is a little better feeder in an inverted posture than Ward and arguably had a stronger fall than Ward; and Galasso is a prototypical quarterback with great vision and an ability to feed that will remind Syracuse fans of former great Tim Nelson – which makes rounding out a close attack that much more difficult. If Galasso is able to integrate himself into the Syracuse system – a concern right now for the Orange staff – the issues with Syracuse’s attack are significantly mitigated: a one-two combination between Galasso and Maltz is vicious, and any extra contributions from Ward and Rice – in either a rotating capacity or individually – merely creates more danger rather than providing the necessary firepower to cause defenses to start to crumble. Eric DeJohn and Dylan Donahue are also likely in the mix here, but their roles are less defined at this point. (Mike Daniello, a transfer from Johns Hopkins, is likely out for the year after sustaining a skull fracture.)
The earlier Syracuse can figure out this situation, the better the offense can start to coalesce and find its purpose.
OFFENSIVE MIDFIELD UNCERTAINTY
I still contend that one of the Orange’s biggest problems in 2012 was the play it got from its offensive midfield. The unit was borderline atrocious a season ago, seeing relatively strong efforts from only two players – JoJo Marasco (a converted attack) and now-departed Bobby Eilers. The unit, an impotent trigger point for the Syracuse offense, put more pressure on the Orange’s attack to generate production, which thereby created a one-dimensional aspect to how Syracuse was able to make the scoreboard blink. Simply, if the Orange can’t get stronger play and production from two of its offensive midfield lines in 2013, Syracuse could be neck deep in a pile of manure.
Under the new rules that promote transition and faster play, generating offense from the midfield has become more important than it has been over the last decade or so. For Syracuse, this creates three issues:
- What’s the midfield rotation going to look like? Marasco has a lock on a first-midfield position, but the rest of the construct of the lines is unclear. Hakeem Lecky, a guy with hyper athletic skills, is likely to join Marasco on the first line with Luke Cometti, but that isn’t set in stone. As for the second midfield, there are a host of players that could fill a role there depending on the development of players through the preseason and early spring: Ryan Barber, Henry Schoonmaker, Scott Loy, Matt Walters, Matt Pratt, Tom Grimm, and Joe Gillis. There are options here and those options aren’t without noticeable gaps, allowing for the “crisis of decision” to rear its head. Consistency and unity, consequently, is an obvious concern despite the potential.
- Is the midfield going to be throwing balls into the seats again? The Orange midfield was a mess at canning the bean last season. There are few elite teams that saw as poor a shooting effort from the midfield as Syracuse went through last season. In terms of raw shooting percentage, notable efforts from the Orange’s midfield included: Marasco (18.2 percent); Cometti (30.6); Barber (21.7); Lecky (20.0); Schoonmaker (21.4); Loy (50.0); Walters (41.7 (four out of his five goals were in extra-man postures)); and Pratt (18.8). That isn’t going to get the job done in 2013, especially if more usage comes out of the midfield under the new rules. Syracuse needs to get a higher volume of these guys in the 30 percent range if the midfield is going to contribute positively to the offense’s overall effort.
- Is the midfield ready to carry more production? The only returning midfielder put at least 15 points on the board in 2012 is Marasco. Asking players to assume more responsibility – especially if that responsibility is given via rules that make the responsibility necessary – is always a crapshoot. Moving the focus of offensive generation (pertinently, goal scoring and assisted opportunities (both first and second assist scenarios)) isn’t without growing pains, and for Syracuse – which may be doing it for players that haven’t had to carry quite as heavy a load in the past – it could create further problems.
I won’t go too deep into this because it has been smashed to itty bitty pieces elsewhere, but: Syracuse’s issues at the dot in 2012 drove the Orange’s possession deficit on the year. (The Orange finished last year ranked seventh in clearing percentage and 13th in ride rate.) In the nine games that Syracuse finished with a lower possession percentage than its opponent (seven of those games, notably, were losses), the Orange won the face-off battle only once – a 12-10 loss to Duke at MetLife Stadium. This remains a problem entering 2013, a season in which Chris Daddio, Brian Megill, Cal Paduda, and Brendan Conroy will all mix it up at the “X.”