March 11, 2013

UnCensered: Analyzing the Independence Classic Tripleheader

by Joel Censer | | Twitter | Censer Archive

Syracuse's offense appeared slicker and smarter in a 13-11 win over St. John's on Saturday at PPL Park in Chester, Pa.
© Kevin P. Tucker

All-American candidate Zack Losco was part of a versatile Penn offense in a 13-9 victory over Villanova.
© Kevin P. Tucker

Just another typical Saturday morning. I woke up, brewed a big pot of coffee, set up two computer screens, turned on ESPN3 and began live-blogging all three Independence Classic games at PPL Park in Chester, Pa., from my couch. Seven hours later with a couple blistered fingers to my name, I finally shut down the monitors to digest what had just happened.

I like where Syracuse's offense is headed

It's been one of the great ironies that Syracuse, a program built around flashy individual stars that get dodges named after them, has had a pretty ho-hum offense since Kenny Nims, Steven Brooks, Pat Perritt and Dan Hardy graduated in 2009. Instead of having a stable of guys who could initiate whenever and wherever in the half-field, the Orange have struggled while relying on players with highly specialized skillsets, who are great second or third options but not — to borrow a Bill Simmons line — "first bananas."

But in Syracuse's 13-11 win over St. John's, the Orange offense looked slicker and smarter, with roles more defined and increased movement on and off ball to take advantage of the abundance of slick sticks circling the net. Derek Maltz and Luke Cometti did a nice job cutting hard and finding space. JoJo Marasco seemed comfortable as the primary ball handler, and put pressure on the defense in a variety of ways. Scott Loy could run by a short-stick. Quarterback Kevin Rice did a solid job managing the game from behind the net, especially when the second midfield came on. Over the next couple games though, Rice is likely to have less opportunity to spot feed as he'll be matched up with the big athletic defenseman who can play on an island. It will be interesting to see if he's ready to turn the corner.

St. John's is a team no one wants to play in the postseason

In the postseason, the game generally slows down and becomes less about transition and unsettled situations and more about half-field offensive and defensive efficiency. If there's a group that stands to benefit from that, it's this pesky St. John's outfit. There's a reason the Red Storm won a Big East tournament game last season, beating Notre Dame.

On defense they're Queens tough, and junior defenseman Joe Adonna and senior netminder Jeff Lowman (12 saves against 'Cuse) are both rock solid. But the Storm settled offense is what really jumped out on Saturday.

Southpaw Kieran McArdle (four goals, two assists on the day) is arguably a top five attackman in Division I lacrosse. He's the consummate quarterback who can get everyone involved. He's crafty around the net (that low-to-high wrist flick on the extra-man was unreal). He runs the two-man game as well as anyone. He can call his own number, blowing past first-team All-American candidate Brian Megill on multiple occasions on Saturday. Not to mention McArdle's sidekick, Kevin Cernuto, can also create off the dodge and would be the first attackman on a lot of Division I teams. Also worth noting: the St. John's game is definitely one where the Orange really missed recently-injured defenseman Brandon Mullins (knee).

Basically, McArdle, Cernuto, and a bunch of innovative pick games from behind ensure that the Red Storm can get a defense — even the slow-to-slide Megill and company — moving any night of the week. That goes a long way in May.

Penn is playing different this year

During halftime of my live blog, I predicted that Penn would race past Villanova in the second half. I just couldn't see Nova's Max Hart pouring in another four goals and wasn't sure exactly where else the other Villanova goals were going to come from, especially with Penn defenseman Anthony Santomo putting the clamps on Nick Doherty.

What most impressed me about the Quakers' 13-9 thrashing of the cross-town rival Wildcats was just how versatile Penn was on offense. Midfielders (Isaac Bock anyone?) could sling from the alleys. Attackers could dodge. And for a team that is almost always near the bottom of's "Pace Ratings," the Quakers looked tailor-made to get out and attack in transition.

Danny Feeney won faceoffs clean (16 of 23) out in front and then had the requisite stick skills to actually carry the ball afterwards. He scored a goal. Zack Losco, who has to be an All-American this year, and Drew Belinsky are both super talented end-to-end guys who are threats any time they cross midfield. At the defensive end, goalkeeper Brian Feeney (Danny's twin) can toss a good outlet pass, while Santomo and Maxx Mayer are savvy off the ground, can cause turnovers and handle their transition opportunities.

Battle of central Pa. lax clones

Did anyone watch Lehigh's 12-10 takedown of Penn State and think the two teams were doppelgangers? Two scrappy groups who are well coached, play hard, are stout on defense but have offenses that are attack reliant and don't have ample dodging options.

I will say that I thought Lehigh was a bit more talented than the Lions. Lehigh sophomore attackman Dan Taylor, who tallied two goals and three helpers against the Nittany Lions, is a human highlight film ready to breakout in 2013.

More significant, it was hard not to be drawn to the Mountain Hawks' defense. I don't know what happened when Lehigh gave up 33 goals in losses to Denver and Air Force two weeks ago in Colorado, besides starting goalie Matt Poillon getting hurt. But on Saturday, physical lefties Ty Souders and Mike Noone flexed their defensive wherewithal while Poillon was the difference maker in and out of the cage, making 11 saves. Watching the Lehigh defense slide and recover for at least a quarter or two made all the preseason hype coming from Bethlehem seemed justified.

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