Syracuse will play North Carolina in the first round of the ACC Tournament on Friday, April 28 at 6 p.m. in Durham, N.C. (TV: ESPNEWS). The Juice Online’s Wes Cheng and Brad Bierman make their predictions below.
BRAD BIERMAN: When you take a look at the final results of Syracuse’s four ACC victories this season they are all by the minimum one goal margin, two came in overtime, and the all-important face off numbers to control possession and often times tempo, were all over the place.
SU’s stalwart Ben Williams was 14-31 against UVA and its primary faceoff man Jason Murphy, just 4-18 against Duke’s equally stout senior Kyle Rowe, a game in which true freshman Danny Varello also saw his first action winning 6 of 8 draws against Rowe who’s 19th this week nationally in winning percentage (Murphy and Williams are 24th and 25th respectively), 10-23 against Notre Dame’s P.J. Finley, and 15-25 dueling North Carolina’s Stephen Kelly (28th nationally) whom he gets for a second time in Friday’s first ACC semifinal.
After the latest “wakeup call” game holding on in regulation to defeat Binghamton, we look for the Orange to come out playing sharper in an event they have done well in since joining the ACC in 2014 and defeat the Tar Heels by more than a goal 12-10, ending the defending champions shot at making the NCAA Tournament, then taking on hometown Duke in the championship game.
Following the ‘Cuse edging the Blue Devils 12-11 in OT at the Dome March 25, we see a late Duke goal to get revenge against SU 10-9, knocking the Orange to a No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament with one game remaining at Colgate May 6.
WESLEY CHENG: Going off what Brad said, Ben Williams played one of his best games against UNC, winning 15 of 25 at the X against Stephen Kelly. The key was in the first quarter, when Williams won 5 of 7 faceoffs, and Syracuse promptly took a 4-2 lead. The Orange was outscored 4-0 in the second quarter, and not so coincidentally, Williams was just 1 for 5.
I expect a more sustained effort from the Orange after its malaise against Binghamton, with the Orange leading wire to wire for a three goal win against the Tar Heels. That will set them up for a matchup against Notre Dame in the championship, which was No. 1 at the time when the Orange went to South Bend and knocked them off 11-10.
If you think back to that game, Williams may have ended up on the short end of that matchup with P.J. Finley, as Brad mentions above. But he was the main catalyst for SU’s critical 3-0 run in the second quarter when SU seized momentum in the game, winning four in a row during that time.
I predict Williams will hold a slight advantage this time around, giving the Orange just enough of a window to eek out a one-goal victory, cementing it as the No. 1 seed for the NCAA Tournament, and the team to beat.