Orange Watch: After winning ACC title, Syracuse lacrosse eyes No. 1 NCAA Tournament seed

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Orange midfielders Hakeem Lecky (left), and Derek DeJoe, who combined for three goals, celebrate the ACC championship win over Duke in Chester, Pa. Sunday afternoon.

Item: The ‘Cuse was most impressive overall, and specifically down the stretch to garner two, one goal wins in three days over ACC counterparts North Carolina and Duke, setting up the likely scenario that should the Orange successfully navigate its final game at Patriot League champion Colgate this Saturday, it will be Syracuse on top of the NCAA bracket when its released the following evening.

After Syracuse ascended to number one in the lacrosse polls following its March 1 win over Virginia, head coach John Desko reminded his team that the only time it matters about being number one is at the end of the season on Memorial Day, the annual date of the NCAA Championship game.

Following a stellar two game performance in three days during this past weekend’s ACC championship in suburban Philadelphia to win the title, its clear Desko has kept firm extending that thought process to his players as the Orange took care of business against two of the best programs in Div. I over a 48 hour period, the same scenario the Orange would encounter should they make the Final Four up I-95 at Lincoln Financial Field May 23-25.

“Playing two games in three days against top six teams is sort of what you will see in the Final Four,” said Orange attackman Kevin Rice (three goals, four assists) following the thrilling finish to hold off Duke 15-14 and win the title. “To know we can go in and win a game the first day, get our preparation in quickly and get our bodies back ready and win another game at the end of the weekend is good to know moving forward.”

» Related: Syracuse captures ACC championship by defeating Duke

Rice, as usual, was at his best on the big stage. Despite being guarded by two of Duke’s best defenders, he calmly roamed circles around the cage either finding teammates for good shots or displaying his own magic.

“I like the ACC Tournament, I like playing towards the end of the year,” Rice said following his MVP performance against the Blue Devils. “The intensity is higher, everyone (the top teams) sort of knows everything about everyone (the top players). It’s the teams that can think a step ahead, figure out what’s coming next, that will be successful.”

While Rice highlights the explosive and well-rounded offense with many scoring options (eight Orange players scored against Duke), the other end of the field could turn out to be the difference as to how far SU advances in postseason play.

Goalie Bobby Wardwell has been as consistent as could be asked for all season, save for one bad game at North Carolina. Even when Duke made a second quarter run and scored four of the final seven goals of the game, Wardwell stood tall with the game on the line.

“I give Bobby Wardwell a lot of credit for the saves (eight on 43 shots) he made today,” Desko said after the Duke win. “I was surprised at the numbers (shots on goal), and (he played great) in the man-up situations and all-even play. He saved us out there today.”

With its only two defeats coming against conference brethren Notre Dame and North Carolina, and with the top strength of schedule rating in Div. I, it’s hard not to think that the Orange will grab the top seed in the NCAA Tournament with a win Saturday at Colgate.

“They’re the best team in the country,” said Duke coach John Danowski, who’s teams won the last two NCAA titles, praising SU after the ACC championship. “They are a tough team to defend because they have a lot of capable players. They’re such a good team as a group offensively; the other guys make good players better.”

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Brad Bierman

About Brad Bierman

Now in his fifth decade of covering SU sports, Brad was sports director of WSYR radio for eight years into the early 1990s, then wrote the Orange Watch column for The Big Orange/The Juice print publication for 18 years. A Syracuse University graduate, Brad currently runs his own media consulting business in the Philadelphia suburbs. Follow him on Twitter @BradBierman.
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