Here we go again.
The same faceoff woes that plagued Syracuse throughout 2013—especially in the championship game loss to Duke—are threatening to wreck the Orange’s latest campaign.
Syracuse was thrashed 16-8 on Saturday against Maryland at the Dome—the team’s worst lost since 2007, when Johns Hopkins defeated the Orange 17-9. The Orange lost 19 of 27 attempts at the faceoff X in its first league matchup. And while that’s concerning, that’s not the whole story.
The Terrapins picked up 19 more ground balls than the Orange and had 23 more shots. The defense allowed 16 goals for the second straight game. Maryland, a strong defensive team with one of the best goalies in the game (Niko Amato), buckled down after the first quarter.
Last year, Syracuse stayed in and won many of its games despite faceoff difficulties thanks to stout defense. The team got stops and gave its offense a chance to convert on its opportunities.
The Orange is an incredibly talented offensive team this year, but as we saw against Maryland, it can’t do a whole lot of good without ball possession. Syracuse needs consistent faceoff wins and defensive stops. Until Saturday, the team had been able to do that.
Syracuse has won 51.6 percent of its faceoffs in its first three games. Give Maryland’s Charlie Raffa credit. He currently ranks in the top 10 in faceoff percentage nationally, winning 67.2 percent of his chances.
Only time will tell whether Saturday was an aberration—everyone has an off day—or an indication of what’s to come.
The team has taken steps to improve upon 2013’s faceoff failures. Chris Daddio dedicated his offseason to improving his technique. And Coach John Desko brought in junior college transfer Mike Iacono, who won 78 percent of his faceoffs (56-72) that were recorded for Nassau Community College last year.
But faceoffs are as much a mental battle as physical. As Raffa began winning at the X, Daddio began jumping early, eventually drawing a penalty. Then Daddio, concerned about drawing another penalty, got timid.
Today’s faceoff specialists typically are counted on doing two things: gaining possession and sprinting off the field. There are different techniques, such as the clamp, rake and plunge, and entire summer camps are dedicated to the craft. The specialists are a lot like wrestlers, sporting strong bodies with low centers of gravity.
Desko and the rest of the Orange’s coaching staff know all these things and more. If the problem can be fixed, it will be.
Saturday’s tilt at Virginia will provide a better indicator of the team’s progress in addressing its faceoff deficiencies. Virginia’s Mick Parks has won 46.8 percent of his faceoffs in 2014, ranking 41st in the country. Daddio, who sports a 55.7 faceoff win percentage, and Iacono have a chance to put the Maryland misery behind.
But the team must improve in other areas too. Without better goalkeeping, defense, ground ball coverage and shot selection, Syracuse will be looking to dig itself out of a deep hole in the ultracompetitive ACC.