March 28, 2014

Jedi Mind Tricks All Around Syracuse, Notre Dame

by Eamon McAnaney | LaxMagazine.com | Twitter

Brandon Mullins and the Syracuse defense allowed 21 goals to Duke last week.
(Cecil Copeland)

Lacrosse Magazine welcomed ESPN lacrosse announcer Eamon McAnaney to its stable of contributors earlier this spring. Look for more from McAnaney, a sports broadcasting veteran and former Notre Dame lacrosse captain, throughout the college season here at LaxMagazine.com. For a list of upcoming ESPN and other lacrosse broadcasts, visit LaxMagazine.com/TV.

Here are his four games to watch this weekend.

No. 7 Notre Dame at No. 9 Syracuse, Saturday 12 p.m. (ESPNU)

This is a classic Obi Wan Kenobi game, because the most intriguing part is how Syracuse is mentally. When you get recruited to play lacrosse at Syracuse, you never, ever expect to get beat by two touchdowns, as Duke did to the Orange last week. So how does John Desko's club bounce back from that? One Division I coach mentioned to me that the faceoff woes have become such a topic of conversation around the program that you can almost see the team deflate when they don't win one, and the stats say Saturday will be another uphill battle in that department. It may be apples to bowling balls, because one game was outdoors on grass and another was indoors on turf, but keep this in mind: Notre Dame's Liam O'Connor won 19 of 24 faceoffs against Virginia, and Virginia's Mick Parks won a career-high 24 faceoffs against Syracuse.

Last year, Syracuse played with a chip on its shoulder in two games against Notre Dame and really took it to the Irish. If the Orange take the field with that same edge, this could be a defining moment. On the flip side, Kevin Corrigan might want to dig into his memory bank to when his colleague in the football office was Lou Holtz and remind his players that less than two months ago, everyone was questioning Notre Dame's ability to stand up to the level of competition in the ACC while Syracuse was considered a favorite to win the league. You see Jedi mind tricks all around.

No. 2 Loyola at No. 20 Colgate, Saturday 12 p.m.

The Greyhounds will put their new shiny ranking (they're No. 2 in the Lacrosse Magazine Top 20 and No. 1 in a composite ranking of several sources) on the line in Hamilton. Coach Charley Toomey readily admits that he is concerned about his players exhaling just a bit with their new status on top of the polls.

"Two of our last three games have been one-goal games. We need to come out and play with energy," Toomey said. "Will we be excited to play?"

While many of us focus on the polls, Toomey knows there is a more immediate source of motivation in this Patriot League clash. "Colgate's in the top 20 and 3-1 in the league, so this is for first place. That's the message. Our guys know that if we lose on Saturday, we're probably going to have to go back there for the Patriot League tournament."

While the programs will say Loyola vs. Colgate, the individual matchup between Raider attackman Ryan Walsh and Joe Fletcher will be worth the price of admission alone. "Walsh is a monster," Toomey said. "Before, he was more of a bull dodger, but he's changed his game. His stats are pretty even (19 goals, 11 assists), so he can beat you in a lot of ways."

No. 4 North Carolina at No. 10 Johns Hopkins, Saturday 2 p.m. (ESPNU)

Colgate's Ryan Walsh likely will see a lot of Loyola's Joe Fletcher in a Patriot League clash Saturday. "Walsh is a monster," Loyola coach Charley Toomey said. (Rich Barnes)

The Tar Heels head to Homewood for the first time since 2008 riding the momentum from last week's signature win over previously top-ranked Maryland, while the Blue Jays are reeling a little after back-to-back losses. The redesigned Johns Hopkins offense was clicking out of the chute, averaging 13.8 goals per game game in the first five contests. But the Jays have been held to just 10 goals in each of the two defeats.

While opponents are starting to play more zone to take away the pick game, coach Dave Pietramala believes the wounds have been more self-inflicted. "Our ball security has to improve," he said. "We are getting the stops we need, but giving the ball right back on the other end. We are also negating our hard work and advantages that we create in the faceoff game. Valuing the ball is crucial for us this week."

Not only could an improvement in that department lead to more Johns Hopkins goals, but it also would keep the ball out of the sticks of North Carolina stalwarts Jimmy Bitter and Joey Sankey.

"Their ability to make plays is scary," Pietramala said. "They can take great 'D' and a good slide and split it. You can do everything you were told and coached, and they can still make a play."

No. 8 Virginia at No. 5 Maryland, Sunday 12 p.m. (ESPNU)

The Terps will have a tough time putting their first loss in the rearview mirror against a Cavalier team that is feeling pretty good after last week's overtime win against Hopkins. Maryland has become known as the "Baby Turtles" because of the prominent roles being played by freshmen Matt Rambo, Connor Cannizzaro and Colin Heacock. But Terps coach John Tillman isn't sure young is the accurate adjective for his club.

"We are a new team," Tillman said. "We have new guys in new spots. We are not going to overpower people. Everyone has to know their roles and do whatever they are asked to do to help us win."

The Cavaliers scored 21 goals earlier this week against VMI, but Dom Starsia is not expecting a track meet in College Park. "They are the most organized defense in Division I, and it starts with Niko Amato in the cage. I wouldn't be surprised if the first team to 10 wins."

While it might not be a high-scoring affair, Tillman has to be concerned that Ryan Lukacovic and Greg Coholan are emerging as threats for an already powerful Virginia offense.

"Our kids have to be confident," Tillman said. "It's a bunch of older guys against younger guys, but we don't ask anybody to break out ID cards before the game. We just need to be loose and have fun."


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