Friday, March 11, 2011

game preview: Cornell

Date/Time: Sat., March 12; 1:30


History against the Big Red: 6-3

Last matchup: UVA 12, Cornell 4; 3/13/10; Ithaca

Last game: UVA 14, Vermont 6 (3/8); Cornell 14, Canisius 7 (3/9)

Opposing blogs: none

I'm going to deviate from the usual format a little bit because first I want to talk Syracuse a bit. A disappointing game. By itself, the result wasn't too bad. Sooner or later you're gonna lose one of those, and there's no shame in a 2-point loss to the top-ranked team in the regular season, even if top-ranked is what you're trying to be.

Still, I think this team has problems that, if they don't get fixed, will guarantee that this group of seniors leaves without a national championship. Faceoffs is number one. Of course it is. The faceoff men rebounded after the first quarter to make it look a little bit even, but, guh. The typical Syracuse run in the first quarter happened just as I'd feared because we lost like the first five or six faceoffs in a row. On Tuesday the team handled Vermont OK, but only won 43% of faceoffs. Against Vermont. Which, granted, has a slightly-above 50% win rate on the season, but their competition is such as Colgate and Air Force and I'm not impressed. If this doesn't get fixed this team isn't winning any tournament.

Offense is problematic too. Defense actually seems passable. The offense doesn't look like a championship offense. It's like a Ferrari that's down a cylinder or two. Tons upon tons of potential that isn't being used. Lots of goals being scored, but too much of it is individual effort. Over half the goals scored this season are unassisted. That's just unsustainable. In years past it's been between 35-40%. 2007 was the worst year in recent memory - a first-round loss in the tournament, three regular-season losses (if the ACC tournament is regular season), and just no domination in our wins - and the unassisted-goals rate was 41%. The championship season of 2006: 31.5% This year, as I said: over 50%.

There are too many good players on this team for that not to change, but if it doesn't, quality teams are going to run over us.

Now. Cornell. Recent Final Four runs notwithstanding, this is typically a team that lurks just outside lacrosse's elite, a threat to knock someone off but usually more of a quality-win machine for Syracuse, Hopkins, and the ACC. If anything, they're a little down this year with a loss to Army and uninspiring wins over Hobart and Canisius and a decent one over terrible Binghamton.

The thing about Cornell is you must take away junior attackman Rob Pannell. Pannell has more than half the team's assists, as well as nine goals in four games. There's no limit to the scoring he can do if you let him, but if he's frustrated I just don't see where their offense is coming from. Last year he had Ryan Hurley, a combo that made Cornell's offense pretty good, but his partner in crime graduated and nobody's really seized the vacancy. This would look like a chance to give the faceoff numbers a tiny boost, as Cornell is also below 50% here, but their primary two guys are a nudge above even, which means they'll probably each go 8-for-12.

That shouldn't matter, though. Cornell's goalie, A.J. Fiore, is in his second year of starting in net and hasn't started off well. And their starting defense is ever so young - all sophomores, two of them also in their second year of starting and one in his first. UVA's wily veterans on offense should be able to find plenty of ways to put the ball in the net. As long as Pannell is shut down - more than doable, as our defense has been relatively stout - this game should be a good national-TV bounceback from last week.

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