Denver vs. Syracuse: Three things to watch

Denver vs. Syracuse: Three things to watch

The series history between these two teams is not very long, but Syracuse has won all three meetings against Denver. But this will be the first time that these programs have met in the NCAA tournament.

The fourth-seeded Pioneers (14-4) have scored 31 goals in the postseason, the second most among the four semifinalists. The defense has relied on the goalie rotation of sophomore Ryan LaPlante (10.14 goals-against average and .557 save percentage) and junior Jamie Faus (9.07, .567) with the former getting the starts.

The top-seeded Orange (15-3) have featured the best defense in the NCAA tournament, surrendering just 13 goals in two games. Since March 16, Syracuse has handed the goaltending reins to junior and St. Mary’s graduate Dominic Lamolinara (8.12, .542).

Here are a few factors that could influence the outcome at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia on Saturday.

1) Syracuse’s second midfield. The Orange have been powered offensively by their starting attack and midfield units with the attack producing 122 points and the midfield adding 119 points. But coach John Desko pointed out that the team must get the second midfield of redshirt senior Ryan Barber (five goals and four assists) and redshirt sophomores Henry Schoonmaker (18, 5) and Hakeem Lecky (8, 0) more involved. That trio took just five shots in last Saturday’s 7-6 decision over Yale in a quarterfinal. “In the second midfield group, we’ve gotten some production out of them going down the stretch,” Desko said. “Against Yale, they weren’t out there as much as we’d like them to be because we were playing so much defense that day, but if you look, we’ve had some guys down the stretch here step up and produce for us.”

2) Denver’s defense. The Pioneers do not have the most accommodating defense among the semifinalists (that honor would go to seventh-seeded Duke, which is surrendering 10.0 goals per game this season), but the unit did give up 25 goals in the postseason, which is the most among teams still alive. Denver has demonstrated that it can play both man-to-man and zone defenses, but ESPN analyst and former Johns Hopkins midfielder Mark Dixon said the Pioneers must be vigilant when they go into a zone against the Orange. “Denver likes to play zone, and you’ve got to defend off-ball against Syracuse,” he said. “They will carve you to ribbons off-ball with their cuts and their ball movement. So you cannot ball-watch against Syracuse.”

3) Syracuse’s faceoffs. The Orange’s Achilles heel this season has been faceoffs. That unit has won just 6-of-40 draws in the tournament, including just 1-of-23 in a 10-7 win against Bryant in the opening round of the tournament. Dixon said the onus will be on junior Chris Daddio (45.9 percent on 113-of-246) to battle Denver senior Chase Carraro (57.8 percent on 155-of-268) enough to get the offense the necessary possessions to attack the Pioneers defense. “That might be counterintuitive because they’re 9-1 when they lose the faceoff battle, and I think they’re going to lose the faceoff battle once again with Chase Carraro going for Denver,” Dixon said. “It just puts a tremendous amount of pressure on your defense. So far, the Orange defense has responded, but you’re not going to see Denver turn the ball over and you’re not going to see them be afraid of Syracuse’s pressure, and they’ve got a variety of weapons. I think the two best offenses in the country just played one another in Carolina and Denver and now you’re going up against either No. 1 or No. 1A. Syracuse has to find some way to get possessions.”