March 24, 2016
Duke and Syracuse met in last year's ACC final and have been Memorial Day weekend staples in recent years. What will Saturday's showdown bring? (Kevin P. Tucker)
Duke and Syracuse met in last year's ACC final and have been Memorial Day weekend staples in recent years. What will Saturday's showdown bring? (Kevin P. Tucker)

McAnaney: Dangerous 'Cuse, Soul-Searching Duke to Clash

by Eamon McAnaney | | Twitter 

Since Syracuse and Duke have become ACC rivals, it has been easy to bill their meetings as potential final four previews.

But for a Blue Devils team that was just upset at home Tuesday by Air Force, Memorial Day weekend in Philadelphia isn't on their radar right now.

"We're a 6-4 team, and 6-4 teams don't talk about the final four," Duke assistant coach Ron Caputo said. "It's the old Bill Parcells line: you are what your record says you are. As a 6-4 team, to talk about anything other than getting better is silly."

While Duke's record might not scream title contender, the Orange promise they are not taking Saturday's game lightly, especially since Syracuse is looking to rebound after suffering its first loss of the season in overtime to Johns Hopkins.

"You can't look it that way. Duke is Duke and they are a great lacrosse team," Syracuse's leading scorer, Dylan Donahue, told me. "Everyone is itching to get back out there after last week and as we get deeper and deeper into the season we have to get better every week because the teams we play get better and better."

After losing five starters from last year's offense, Syracuse was a tough team to predict this year — and not just for the pundits.

"Back to scratch isn't that far off," Orange head coach John Desko said. "The whole time in the fall and early in the preseason, we were mixing and matching, trying to figure out who was going to be on attack and who was going to be on the first midfield line."

One luxury Desko had was that Donahue, the lone returning offensive starter, had a chance to be a coach on the field for the newcomers. That shouldn't be a surprise since he is the son of veteran assistant coach Kevin Donahue.

"It was definitely different at the beginning without those guys around," Donahue said. "I think I talked more than I used to."

"He had to do a lot of coaching because nobody else was as familiar with the offense," Desko said. "I think it helped his vision, because he had to develop a good understanding of the entire offense. It really helped the coaches having him out on the field."

The lone returning offensive starter for Syracuse, Dylan Donahue has helped anchor an Orange offense putting up 13-plus goals per game, though they are looking to rebound from their first loss of the year. (John Strohsacker)

It appears everyone is on the same page, as Syracuse is averaging more than 13 goals a game. Though Caputo suspects program sales might be at an all-time high in the Carrier Dome, these Orange are very dangerous.

"Traditionally, Syracuse had that one 'Great White Shark' kind of guy that tilted the field," he said. "Now though, anyone can get you. They have a lot of guys that can go score five goals in a game."

Duke's offense is a little bit more familiar to the general fan, maybe just because it is led by one of the biggest stars in the sport, Myles Jones. The last time Jones saw the Orange he had three goals and two assists in the ACC tournament title game a year ago, a game which Syracuse won 15-14.

"We have to be on his hands at all times," Desko said.

"He puts so much pressure on a defense because he has great range, he can run over guys and he's a great passer. We have to be on his hands because he reads the defense so well. If you slide to him you have to help the crease because he wants to make the big pass. You can't hesitate to slide but you have to protect inside also."

Even those who rarely have to deal with the No. 1 pick of the Major League Lacrosse draft marvel at what he can do.

"He's a load," said Donahue, the second overall pick of January's draft. "I'm happy he's at the other end of the field."

With the Blue Devils' entire ACC schedule ahead of them it's too early to talk about "must wins," but Caputo knows if there is any carry-over from Tuesday night, Duke could find itself behind the 8-ball big time.

"We have to come out ready to play. [Syracuse is] outshooting teams 79-33 in the first quarter. They are outscoring teams 40-20 in the first half," he said. "The names have changed but the mantra is the same with Syracuse. They want to overwhelm you with their energy and their athleticism early and if you're not ready for it they'll keep coming and coming."

Eamon McAnaney is the play-by-play voice of ESPN lacrosse and has contributed to since 2014. He was a defenseman at Notre Dame and was captain of the Fighting Irish's 1991 team. Check out more from Eamon here.

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