February 6, 2014

#LMRanks: No. 2 Syracuse Orange (MD1)

by Corey McLaughlin | LaxMagazine.com | Twitter | McLaughlin Archive | College Preview 2014

Syracuse's starting attack of Kevin Rice (above), Dylan Donahue and Derek Maltz returns and the Orange add big offensive talents Randy Staats, Jordan Evans and, if healthy, Nicky Galasso. (Greg Wall).

Previous: No. 3 North Carolina Tar Heels


2013 Record: 16-4 (5-1 Big East)
Coach: John Desko (16th year)
Record at Syracuse: 187-58

Power Ratings (scale of 1-5)

Offense: 5
Defense: 5
Faceoff: 2

Top Returner

LSM Matt Harris (Sr.)
Harris is the best at what Desko called Syracuse's deepest position, with four players the staff is comfortable with playing significant minutes.


A Nicky Galasso (Jr.) and A Randy Staats (Jr.)
Galasso has yet to play a healthy season since his ACC Freshman of the Year campaign at North Carolina in 2011. He came back in good shape this fall, but is currently sidelined with an upper-body injury that is not season-ending, coach John Desko said. On Staats, who broke Onondaga's all-time single season scoring record with 57 goals, 82 assists in 2013, Desko said: "We have to figure out how he's going to get on the field, and where and with who." In a scrimmage Saturday against Towson, Staats came off the bench and scored three goals. Good things could be ahead.

Tournament Trend

2009 Champion
2010 First Round
2011 Quarterfinals
2012 First Round
2013 Finalist

What's New?

Assistant coach Kevin Donahue, who is entering his 26th season on the Orange sideline, is now on as a full-time assistant coach. He taught science at West Genesee (N.Y.) High before retiring this year. "It's going to be real bonus having him in the office full-time," Desko said of the offensive assistant. Donahue is the father of Orange attackman Dylan, who posted 27 goals and 14 assists last season.

Telling Number

Ideal win percentage on faceoffs for a given game, as cited by coach Desko. "We have a pretty good team," Desko said. "If we could hit 50 percent in our big games, then at least we're going to have the ball every other time. I like our odds there." Syracuse struggled mightily at the X last season, winning just 42 percent as a team with faceoffs split among eight players. Chris Daddio and Cal Paduda are back, as is Ricky Buhr after missing 2013. Another junior college transfer, Mike Iacono of Nassau, joined the team with Staats in January.

Behind Enemy Lines

What rival coaches say

"Deepest offense in the nation with interchangeable parts. Can they win a faceoff when it counts?"

— One rival coach

"Deepest offense in the nation with interchangeable parts. Can they win a faceoff when it counts?... Going to be hard to defend, they return the whole attack and the young midfielders have a ton of experience. Jordan Evans will bring a spark. I can't imagine them being worse at facing off... Randy Staats, Nicky Galasso and Jordan Evans???"

"Very good defense. Need to replace points in the midfield, underrated dodgers at attack. Need to get better faceoff play... Returns offensive personnel and add more firepower with Galasso and Staats. Weakness is faceoffs and loss of Megill and Marasco."

"This could ultimately be the team to beat if their freshman class and transfers develop come spring time... Last year this team continued to win games without a consistent threat at the faceoff X and an interesting goalie situation that finally settled down with Lamolinara."

"They won games due to a very productive offense where the wealth was spread out between a bunch of different players. Obviously losing Marasco will hurt but the cupboard is certainly not bare as pretty much everyone else returns plus throw in the touted freshman class, Galasso and possibly Staats and this offense may even be more potent."

"The defense held this team together at times last year especially due to the fact they had to play so much more defense because they were struggling at the face off X... Mullins coming back will be huge for the defensive end especially with the graduation of Megill... Just need to replace Marasco."

"When have you watched a Syracuse team and thought the opponent had more talent? If you had this reaction last year, and in more than just a few of their games, you were not alone. But somehow, the coaching staff led by John Desko and the mystique of the Orange took them to another final four. How about for 2014? A solid freshman class can contribute right away, highlighted by Jordan Evans. Dom Lamolinara is back in the cage. Syracuse is playing better team defense, with the likes of Matt Harris, a stalwart defenseman for the Orange, leading the way. Kevin Rice is one of the best feeders in college lacrosse (32 assists last year)."

"They lose JoJo Marasco from last year's national runner up squad. However, the addition of top recruits and Nicky Galasso will carry the Orange to another late may run... Obviously, a veteran attack that's very dynamic and very skilled. I think their younger midfielders really evolved last year. They should be really good. A lot of defensive parts come back, as does the goalie and the most dominant faceoff guy in the country. They should be right back in the mix."

"Some people think that faceoffs are overrated. I don't. [The Orange] have proven that it's possible to survive without having very good faceoff play, but it's definitely not an easy thing to overcome. If you've got to make stop every time, it's brutal on your team. If anything holds them back, that might be it. But they are still very talented, and it's no secret that they know how to find their way back to the final four."

"Syracuse has always been a unique program in our sport. It always has a way of doing things that was maybe a little bit different and very, very effective. Clearly a team that has a as good a history in the game that I've grown up with up and certainly in the time I've been at [my school], there's no program that's been more accomplished than them."

"I thought John Desko was hands down the coach of the year last year. Syracuse won with a team that you couldn't figure out how they were doing it. They did an unbelievable job last year, and people want to anoint them for this year, but can they replicate the success they had a year ago?"

2013 Recap

Syracuse long-stick midfielder Matt Harris leads what may be the Orange's strongest position group from top to bottom. (Lee Weissman)

In a Nutshell: Syracuse played in 10 one-goal games last season, overcoming a major faceoff deficiency, to reach last year's national title game. The faceoff woes – 42 percent as a team for 55th out of 63 in the nation – finally caught up to them there, when Duke's Brendan Fowler turned in an NCAA tournament MVP performance in the final. A unheralded attack group of Dylan Donahue, Kevin Rice and Derek Maltz was consistent while JoJo Marasco, in his final season wearing the heralded jersey No. 22, put together a Tewaaraton-caliber campaign and set a program record for most assists by a midfielder. The goalie situation settled down by midseason, with Dom Lamolinara established as the starter. And the defense overcome an early season-ending knee injury to Brandon Mullins to develop into one of the stronger units in the nation and one that was certainly battle-tested given Syracuse's problems at the X.

High Point: The fourth quarter of Syracuse's 7-6 NCAA quarterfinal win over Yale at Byrd Stadium in College Park, Md. It put the Orange's senior class into the final four for the first time. Syracuse scored the final three goals after enduring a drought of more than 43 minutes. Dylan Donahue scored with 13 seconds left, off a pass from JoJo Marasco. It was the Orange's seventh one-goal win of the year, and the last game in the semifinals against Denver, which would also be considered a high point.

Low Point: For all of Syracuse's one-goal wins (seven), they had three one-goal losses. In fact, Syracuse only lost by more than one goal once, and that was in the national title game, a 16-10 defeat to Duke. Of the losses, the season-opener double-overtime loss to Albany was a thrilling game, but one that the Orange certainly were used to being played with a wider margin on the scoreboard, in their favor. Same goes for a 13-12 to Hobart on April 16.

2014 Preview

Best Case: The returning offensive parts welcome aboard and settle into a rotation with big talents Randy Staats, Nicky Galasso and Jordan Evans. John Desko and company will likely have to come up with multiple pairings no matter who is on the field, and manage the playing time of guys who all feel they deserve to be out there. For the most part, that will work out. Syracuse improves marginally on faceoffs, which takes pressure off what is once again a solid defense. If all that happens, Syracuse should be playing on Memorial Day.

Worst Case: The number of big-time talents is just too much, and chemistry is never sustained throughout the season. There may be glimpses of greatness, but not consistent enough to win the ACC superconference. Nevertheless, Syracuse gets into the NCAA tournament but chemistry issues prevent them from going back to the final four.

Self-Examination: John Desko on...

A/M Jordan Evans (Fr.)
"We asked a lot of him in the fall, to play two positions like a lot of those guys. It's hard for a freshman when he's, first of all, trying to learn the offense and trying to learn it in a couple different positions. Hard at first, but once you do, you're more comfortable with things, you know your looks better because you're used to being in the spot of a middie or spot of an attackman."

A Nicky Galasso (Jr.)
"He came back, adjusted to being healthy after the procedure in the foot. He got out there running, and got more comfortable with his own ability and adjusting to the procedure. By the end of the fall, he looked really comfortable. He made our conditioning runs when he came back, which shows he was working out over the summer. We'll see him how he plays, get better as the year go on."

D Brandon Mullins (So.)
"We lost him during the year last year. He was doing really well last year, and was able to do conditioning this fall but couldn't practice with the team. He's cleared now and will be ready to go, but we got to get him back in the flow of the team defense and get him some one-on-ones in. But there is no reason physically where he won't be where he was."

A Dylan Donahue (So.), Kevin Rice (Jr.) and Derek Maltz (Sr.)
"We'd like them to continue where they left off. Their strength is that unit, understanding the offense. Players get on the field quicker if they are smart, if they have good lacrosse IQ, they understand offenses rides, game situations, they were really efficient last year especially with our percentages on the faceoff. They did a good job of making decisions, not turning the ball over, looking for good shots and knowing where to be at the right times. You're going to see them be even better this year. I think you'll see teams focusing on them, but they worked really hard in the offseason. I don't think there was a day when I was in the office where I didn't see Dylan Donahue, Kevin Rice, because they are local, working out or working with sticks or shooting. They've put a lot of individual effort into their game."

"We thought that group that ran together at the end of the year on the second midfield, Henry Schoonmaker, Hakeem Lecky, we were excited going into the playoffs and that championship game. We thought they were playing their best lacrosse of the year. In that last game, without winning the faceoffs, we could barely get our first midfield in, let alone the second. We were disappointed in the chance to score goals or make opportunities. With Cometti and Marasco graduating, you have [Scott] Loy and Hakeem and Schoonmaker, and a few guys coming back. Billy Ward could be up there. Anybody could be up there. We feel we have some depth there, too. Hakeem is explosive, a good first step, and improving on shooting percentage, which has been a work in progress."

Long-stick midfielders
"Pole is our deepest position. Matt Harris is back. Peter MacCartney is back and had a great fall. Scott Firman from Jamesville-Dewitt... Everyone talks about Evans, I think this guy is as good at long-stick as Jordan is an attackman as a midfielder. We expect great things about him in the future. Niko Manning from Onondaga also had good fall."

Lacrosse Magazine will continue its 2014 college lacrosse preview throughout January and into February, with team-by-team breakdowns of the top teams in NCAA Division I, II and III men's and women's lacrosse. Follow the countdown at LaxMagazine.com/LMRanks and on twitter at #LMRanks.

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