Item: Like its basketball counterparts, the Syracuse lacrosse coaching staff knows exactly how to form a schedule suited for the NCAA Tournament’s at-large bid metrics, as evidenced by earning a No. 8 seed and home matchup with Cornell for Sunday night’s First Round game (7:15 p.m. ET / ESPNU).
Of course you have to have the talent to back up a schedule that as the season started listed six of the top 11 teams in the preseason Top 20 for the Syracuse lacrosse team. It was a slate highlighted by the addition of home-and-home series with Rutgers and Navy to join the likes of Albany, Johns Hopkins, and Cornell, along with the four ACC teams, and eliciting this comment from 20 year head coach John Desko on the eve of the season, “Our strength of schedule is very high (adding Rutgers and Navy), so I’m hoping what doesn’t kill us will make us stronger by the end of the year.”
Sure, Rutgers, Navy, and North Carolina were excluded from the tournament, making it six of seven teams in the field with all but Virginia hosting first round games.
The Orange going 4-6 in those head-to-head meetings is not what mattered most in the committee’s eyes determining the 8/9 seeds and having this game contested in Syracuse, not Ithaca, site of the 13-8 Big Red domination against SU on April 10.
“As we drilled down further,” committee chair and one-time (1992-96) Syracuse athletics compliance director John Hardt, now in his fifth month as AD at the University of Richmond, told the Baltimore Sun, “Syracuse was 3-1 against common opponents while Cornell was 2-2. Syracuse was undefeated in the (ACC) regular season, which made an impact when you look at the quality and that being the No. 1 RPI conference in the country.”
“Syracuse’s worst loss of the season was to Navy with an RPI of 17,” Hardt continued, “Cornell had two bad losses that were considered by the committee, and that was Colgate (a 17-5 ‘Cuse victim this past weekend) and Princeton. So we took that all into consideration, and we gave the slight edge to Syracuse.”
Does the Orange have a slight edge in a rematch scenario Sunday night? That’s hard to say. Cornell started left-handed reserve goalie Caelahn Bullen in place of starter Christian Knight a month ago, and Bullen’s different look across the cage stymied the Orange’s array of potent shooters (Stephen Rehfruss, Nate Solomon, Brendan Bomberry, and Jamie Trimboli) as he finished with 14 saves, but Knight has been hot at the end of the season including giving up just 12 goals with a record 35 saves in two wins in the Ivy League tournament.
Cornell attackman Jeff Teat is second in the nation in assists per game, and had four against SU in April’s win (along with two goals) despite drawing intense pressure from Orange defenseman Nick Mellen, a strategy that doesn’t figure to change this time around.
There was an almost unemotional, tepid applause from the Syracuse players Sunday night when they saw they did receive a first round home game watching the ESPNU telecast together, the light clapping of hands was sort of saying, ‘okay, boys, we got a home game then likely the No. 1 seed in front of a trip to the Final Four for the first time in five years, let’s get to work.’