Semis forecast: big bang

Duke, Virginia, Syracuse, Hopkins expected to crank up offense

NCAA men's tournament

May 24, 2008|By Edward Lee | Edward Lee,SUN REPORTER

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Fireworks are difficult to see in broad daylight, but those who plan to watch the NCAA Division I men's lacrosse tournament shouldn't have any problems seeing the pyrotechnics.

That's because the four teams in the national semifinals have some of the most explosive offenses in the country.

Top seed Duke (18-1), No. 3 seed Syracuse (14-2) and No. 2 seed Virginia (14-3) rate first, second and fourth in the nation in scoring, respectively, and No. 5 seed Johns Hopkins (10-5) is No. 12.

Virginia and Syracuse will meet in the first semifinal at noon today at Gillette Stadium, and Duke and Johns Hopkins will follow at 2:30 p.m.

The potential for high scores in the semifinals today and the final Monday should delight fans.

"I think it's great for the sport," ESPN analyst Matt Ward said. "I think these teams that like to run up and down the field are succeeding, and that's the kind of lacrosse that people like to see.

"Teams like Princeton with defensive-oriented schemes can still succeed, but it just shows that when you have teams with players who are really athletic and who have great stick skills and can do it all, they can take over a defense, and it's nice to see that. I think that's what the sport needs ultimately to keep growing the way that it wants to."

Ward should know. As the Tewaaraton Trophy winner in 2006 as the top men's college lacrosse player, he powered a Virginia attack that led the nation in scoring with 15.8 goals a game.

This spring, Duke is close to mirroring those Cavaliers. The Atlantic Coast Conference champion is averaging 15.5 goals.

Duke has scored 295 goals - five shy of the NCAA record compiled by Yale in 18 games in 1990 - courtesy of an offense that has capitalized on unsettled and man-up situations.

"That's how we play every week," Duke coach John Danowski said. "We try to create opportunities off faceoffs. We try to create opportunities from the defensive end. When people are subbing and there's only five people on [the opponent's] offensive end and we've got seven including our goalie, we can double the ball."

Syracuse, which is averaging 13.8 goals, has revived memories of its fast-break-heavy offense that paced the Orange to among the top 20 in the NCAA in goals scored eight times since 1984.

But Syracuse is just as comfortable in 6-on-6 situations, and nine players have scored at least 10 goals.

"We do have depth with a lot of guys who can step up and score and make plays offensively," said senior attackman Mike Leveille, a Tewaaraton Trophy finalist who leads the Orange in goals (43), assists (30) and points (73).

Virginia and Johns Hopkins, which average 12.9 and 10.6 goals, respectively, take a more traditional approach, getting the ball into the offensive zone and setting up the 5-on-5 attack.

The Blue Jays will be especially methodical against Duke, which turned a 4-4 tie into a 17-6 rout in the teams' first meeting April 5.

Johns Hopkins coach Dave Pietramala reiterated his belief that his team's best defense is a patient and efficient offense that holds on to the ball and wins the time-of-possession battle.

"It can be very frustrating for an offense to have the ball and either lose it or have a save and have it go down to the other end and then not see it for another three or four minutes. And then see it for 30 seconds and then not see it for another two or three minutes," he said.

"That can be very difficult for any team. Your best defense is having the ball on offense because your opponent can't score and because you have the opportunity to do so. I think it takes them out of a rhythm, and when you're facing a team like Duke, Syracuse or Virginia, that's certainly your best defense."

edward.lee@baltsun.com

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