Lacrosse Final Four

May 27, 2006|By GARY LAMBRECHT

SECOND GAME

No. 1 seed Virginia (15-0) vs. No. 5 Syracuse (10-4), 2 p.m.

THREE THINGS TO WATCH

Fans should watch the time during the break between games and make sure to be seated by the opening faceoff, since this has all the makings of an old-fashioned, high-scoring duel. Both teams love to run, and both are loaded with scoring weapons.

Goalie play could go a long way toward deciding the winner. Virginia junior Kip Turner plays under the radar often, with the Cavaliers' offense grabbing so much attention, but he is one of the top goalkeepers in the game. Syracuse redshirt freshman Peter Coluccini is playing with lots of confidence.

The Syracuse defense has played well over the past six weeks. Moving junior Steven Panarelli up top to the long-stick midfield spot has made the Orange more disruptive. But Virginia averages nearly 16 goals and has hit the 20-goal mark five times. One big run could finish the Orange.

KEY MATCHUPS

This is a day when the preseason loss of faceoff man Danny Brennan to academic ineligibility could catch up to Syracuse, which has won just 47.2 percent of its attempts with Jon Jerome and John Carrozza. Virginia's Charlie Glazer and Drew Thompson have combined to win 58.1 percent. That kind of advantage could spark a key run by the Cavaliers. It will be interesting to see if Syracuse plays some lengthy stretches of zone defense, rather than ask its close defense to cover Virginia attackmen Matt Ward, Ben Rubeor and Danny Glading all day. The Orange might want to force midfielders Kyle Dixon and Matt Poskay to beat it from the outside. And that strategy could backfire. Syracuse sophomore attackman Mike Leveille has scored in every game, and he is among the craftiest inside players in the game. Virginia senior defenseman Michael Culver is the leader of a smart, aggressive, athletic group. If he covers the Syracuse lefty, that battle could be a treat.

COACHES

Syracuse's John Desko, who took over for the legendary Roy Simmons Jr. in 1999, has established some impressive credentials in his own right. Desko already has won 19 NCAA tournament games - third behind Princeton's Bill Tierney and Virginia's Dom Starsia - and his 19-4 tournament record gives him a postseason winning percentage of .826, tops among coaches with at least 10 playoff victories. Desko may have done his best coaching job this year by rallying the Orange from a 1-4 start, in the face of injuries and inexperience. He has the Orange in its seventh final four under him, and has won three national titles - in 2000, 2002 and 2004. Starsia is one of three coaches to win at least 100 games at two different schools. He won 101 at Brown before taking the Virginia job before the 1993 season, and the Cavaliers have won 156 games and two national titles (1999 and 2003) under him. Starsia's preferred wide-open, run-and-gun style remains, and no Virginia team he has ever coached has embraced and executed it with the efficiency and unselfishness of this team. If the Cavs become the first Division I team to win a title by going 17-0, it would be Starsia's third title in eight seasons.

WHEN SYRACUSE HAS BALL

The Orange offense has settled down considerably in the past two months, which is one reason the team has not allowed as many goals of late. Fewer turnovers and rushed, bad shots translate into fewer chances for the opponent to score. Senior Joe Yevoli is quite a spark when operating behind the cage. He changes directions exceptionally well, and is good at drawing a slide with a move before dumping the ball to an open shooter, or making a move to the goal if he sees a gap in the defense. The Orange still loves to get out in transition, and Panarelli has helped that part of the game from the long-stick midfield spot. The Orange does a great job finding Leveille and senior attackman Brett Bucktooth, an exceptional shooter with superb stick skills.

WHEN VIRGINIA HAS BALL

The Cavaliers have averaged 15.8 goals a game, tops in the NCAA, because they have so many good shooters and passers, and their offense never seems to settle into a pattern. Ward, who has played through the postseason with a fractured right hand, has energy to burn, as his 45 ground balls and team-high 58 points attest. The scary thing is that Rubeor (51 points) is a better shooter and has even better vision. Seven players have at least 34 points. Virginia loves to run up and down the field, and its athletic defense initiates the break beautifully. But the Cavaliers are equally comfortable operating out of a set offense. They're as smart as they are patient.

BOTTOM LINE

On paper, this looks as if it could rival that 20-15 shootout won by Virginia in Charlottesville on March 4. But don't be surprised to see each team hold the ball more than expected, and each coach to play a little closer to the vest this time. If anybody can knock off the Cavaliers, Syracuse has the goods. But it's unlikely, with Virginia's experience and savvy and sense of mission. The Orange had better make a statement early. In the first half, Virginia has outscored its opponents 131-49.

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