Not every lacrosse prediction from early February withstood the test of time.
Maryland only intermittently looked like a final four-caliber team the last two and a half months.
Denver’s season unspooled in part because of suspensions.
Ohio State’s decision to take the phrase “Don’t trust anyone over 30” when constructing its coaching staff literally didn’t translate into matching my admittedly high expectations.
And Princeton was back after I finally pegged them as a 15ish type team. That’ll teach me.
But one thing that seemed sound all along was picking Virginia and Syracuse to play on Memorial Day in Foxboro(ugh).
Both teams remained top-five (and higher) fixtures all year. And both will wear the home unis on Saturday. It makes sense to stick with both in the semis. Here’s why:
No. 2 SYRACUSE vs. No. 3 DUKE
Finally, a matchup between the two up-tempo teams that almost never play each other. Duke has the most lethal offensive option in the game in Ned Crotty. Syracuse has the best all-around player in Matt Abbott. It is, without question, a prodigious collection of talent.
Duke probably is coming off its worst game since mid-March, and there’s no reason to think the Blue Devils will play that poorly again. But they’re facing a Syracuse bunch that impressed in the quarterfinals as much because of its defense as anything.
And that’s what makes the Orange fascinating as they go for the repeat this weekend. Yes, there’s plenty of scoring options buzzing around. There always are. But the combination of Sid Smith and Joel White is fascinating, and defenseman Matt Tierney enjoyed a fine day in the quarterfinals as well.
The biggest question is whether Duke goalie Rob Schroeder can hold up against a sharpshooting opponent in a close game. He can be sure of this: Cuse is unlike any team he’s faced all season.
Prediction: Syracuse 12-11 (2OT). You don’t want to hold past history against a team, but Duke lost to a slightly less talented Johns Hopkins team in the 2007 final and a substantially less talented Hopkins team in the 2008 semifinals. So there’s a certain anxiety that exists with a program that hasn’t quite gotten it done once it reached the end game of the season.
But this pick has as much to do with the Orange as any wariness of Duke, which has actually played a few close games along the way this season. Syracuse can score pretty much as often as it needs to, and while it isn’t a vintage offense, it still can whip the ball around rather efficiently.
In short, it should be a great game, the perfect thing to place on national TV to help sell the sport.
No. 1 VIRGINIA vs. No. 5 CORNELL
Let’s start off this with a fun little chart demonstrating the top goal differentials for a final four team over the first two rounds of the tournament since the field expanded to 16 back in 2003:
26: Johns Hopkins (2005)
23: Duke (2007)
23: Virginia (2009)
22: Duke (2005)
20: Johns Hopkins (2003)
19: Syracuse (2008)
18: Johns Hopkins (2004)
Of those teams, only ‘05 Hopkins and ‘09 Virginia won both of their games by at least 10 goals. Which is to say, the Cavaliers are cookin’.
This actually feels a little bit like the Virginia-Syracuse semifinal in 2006, where you knew the Orange had the talent to make things interesting. Nevertheless, Virginia possessed the superior talent, and things were going to be as close as the Cavaliers permitted them to be.
Virginia opened up an 8-2 lead in the first quarter, eventually winning 17-10.
Cornell could be in for a similar fate here. The Big Red have some fun pieces – a do-everything middie (Max Seibald), a slick attack, a stable defensive scheme.
But they still might not be able to stop Virginia’s patient offense. If it can’t, Cornell would be in good company. It would also be busing back to Ithaca before Memorial Day.
Prediction: Virginia 15-10. This was a 14-10 game the first time around, and probably was the best the Cavaliers played from start to finish in the regular season. Funny thing is, they still trailed at halftime that afternoon.
The Cavaliers have wasted little time punishing teams in the NCAA tournament, as evidenced by this little chart.
Time led: 108:58
Time tied: 5:59
Tied trailed: 5:03
Put another way, Villanova and Johns Hopkins spent a combined 32 seconds within less than five goals after the start of the second quarter.
Cornell is better than both of those teams. But with Virginia clicking, it just might not matter. The Big Red have a goalie in Jake Myers who has reached double digits in saves twice this season; neither time did he have more stops than goals allowed. That needs to change, and it’s just tough to envision that happening against a Virginia offense that’s shredding everyone in sight.