May 25, 2013

UnCensered: Parting Thoughts on the Semifinals

by Joel Censer | | Censer Archive | Twitter

Luke Cometti and the Syracuse answered Denver's challenge on Saturday, rallying back in the fourth quarter to reach Monday's title game.
© Lee Weissman

PHILADELPHIA — The three months before championship weekend provided plenty of hints of what happened on Saturday. Syracuse played in a one-goal game. Syracuse won another one-goal game. Denver platooned their goalies. Goalie platoons were questioned in post-game press conferences. Rob Pannell chucked rubber at cage. Brendan Fowler won faceoffs. I ate too many Italian sausages in the pressbox. My stomach hurts while writing this column. Anyway, here are a few after-game thoughts:

Syracuse 'Most Interesting Team'

I think the Orange are the most interesting team of the decade. I'm not kidding. This Syracuse outfit just doesn't have a lineup or a roster that traditionally correlates to winning lacrosse games. There's no Coffman, Powell or Gait to finalize or jump over goals or do front flips. They don't have a Chris Cercy clone playing make-it-take-it at the faceoff X.

The Orange's game against Denver in many ways typified their season. They lost the faceoff battle. They ran into a red-hot goalie in Denver's Ryan LaPlante, who made 13 first-half saves. There were times during the game where no one on the Orange offense seemed to be able to run by defenders. They were down three goals going into the fourth quarter.

But eventually 'Cuse answered the bell: causing turnovers, clearing effectively and being patient and smart enough to finally generate some offense and steal the win. Big Luke Cometti rumbled down the alley and filled space. JoJo Marasco poked, prodded, rolled back and spot fed Dylan Donohue and Derek Maltz from all corners of the field. Defensemen Matt Harris, Brian Megill and David Hamlin caused chaos and gobbled up loose balls off the carpet while Canuck Sean Young locked Wes Berg up on the interior.

As is the case on most Saturdays, the Orange had ice in theirs veins, making plays when they had to make plays.

Duke's Athletes Show Up

We should've seen it coming. Cornell may have wanted a track meet with the Blue Devils, but Duke had the athletes in the middle of the field — Brendan Fowler and Will Haus specifically — to punch back. On defense, Duke enlisted Henry Lobb, a 6-foot-5 defensive prototype to guard and semi-shut off Pannell without much in the way of support.

Whereas Cornell's offensive stars dodged, redodged and had to hit on-the-run shots with ACC cyborgs draped all over them, the Blue Devils let the ball do the most of the work. Freshman attackman Case Matheis, whom Cornell short-sticked, shimmied hard and either found the open guy or ripped it if necessary. Jordan Wolf picked his spots and shared the rock as much as he did his patented right-handed jumpshot coming around X. Dave Lawson and Jake Tripucka handled long poles, ran downhill and made the extra pass. Maybe it was because the Blue Devils weren't dealing with any 40-year-old demons like the Big Red, but in general, Duke looked like a group where no one was trying to do anything more than their own job.

With faceoff man Chase Carraro, Denver could have pushed the pace a bit more in transition, writes Joel Censer.
© Kevin P. Tucker

A Sad End for Cornell

I grew up watching Mikey Powell and John Christmas dodge from X and get a defense moving simply by jabbing at the goal. Times have changed, though, and in an era of hyper-athletic and well-organized defenses, attackmen are often more reactionary catch-and-shoot types today than anything else.

Of course, Pannell was the ultimate throwback. There just wasn't a way to guard the question-mark savant without giving up some kind of shot. (Not surprisingly, he took 20 of them yesterday.) But it was more than just the Red Mamba. Connor Buczek is a Southern Ohio dumptruck built out of the Max Seibald mold. Max Van Bourgondien is as fast and shifty as he is skilled. Even midfielder Connor English, who ran out the clock in the 2011 title game when he was at Virginia, had a blistering first step.

If there was something nostalgic or even spiritual for me and about watching the Big Red — a team built less on cold-hearted efficiency, clearing percentages and picking games and more on offensive firepower — then there was something sad in watching them lose yesterday.

I get it. Cornell plays a certain style. The Big Red flies to the ball. They swarm all over the field. But against a team like Duke, who had Fowler on the on-deck circle and is crawling with end-to-end athletes, I thought the Red needed to possess more and work a little harder on getting the best, not the first, shot on offense. That focus on protecting the pill just wasn't there yesterday, especially in the third quarter.

Denver Could Have Pushed the Pace

Look, it's not a secret what happened to the Pios. A team built on making the most out of its offensive possessions had 17 turnovers. Part of the credit there has to go to a talented 'Cuse defense, and part of it can be attributed to Denver playing more hero ball in the third and fourth quarter than relying on their usual dose of picks, slips, quick touches and one-timers.

If I had one complaint, I'd say that while Denver likes grinding teams into oblivion — the "Matt Brown Offensive Experiment" is less about shooting often as it is about being efficient — I think the Pioneers could have pushed the issue a bit more in transition and unsettled opportunities. I know there were some early violation issues at the dot, but I just didn't see anyone on the 'Cuse roster who could compete with end-to-end weapon Chase Carraro.

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