With three games left in the regular season, one of Syracuse’s most glaring issues has been faceoffs.
In losses to No. 2 Duke and No. 9 Notre Dame, the Orange went a combined 17 for 47 (.367) at the X after a strong start to the season.
As a result, Syracuse’s two main faceoff specialists, Jacob Phaup and Danny Varello, have seen their FO% dip to .536 percent and .368 percent, respectively. To put that in perspective, Phaup finished first (.679) and Varello finished second (.631) in the ACC in 2020.
Why the significant drop?
On July 22, 2020, the NCAA eliminated the “motorcycle grip” technique of holding the stick during faceoffs. Players can no longer have one knee on the ground and need to be in a standing position at the X.
Additionally, “clamping,” where the ball is held under a player’s stick for an extended period of time with no additional motion, has also become a penalty under the new rules.
The goal was to decrease the amount of lengthy “stalemate” faceoffs where both players wrestle for control of the ball with no clear winner.
“The new rules were put into place because the committee wanted to see 50/50 faceoffs every game,” Syracuse head coach John Desko said on Thursday. “If you look at some of these (faceoff) guys nationally, there’s just a group that’s doing better than everybody else.”
One of the other players Desko was most certainly referring to is Denver’s TD Ierlan, who led the nation in faceoff win percentage at .764 in 2020, and holds numerous other NCAA faceoff records for his career.
With the new rule changes, the NCAA hopes to speed up the game, and even the odds at the faceoff “X” to give teams a closer number of possessions per game.
That has not been a welcome change for the Orange.
“You talk about ‘faceoff woes,’ but sometimes it’s just a matchup issue,” Desko said. “With the new handgrip and no-knee down (rules) you have very little time to practice, and you throw COVID in it and you just don’t know how everybody’s going to react to it.”
Syracuse’s remaining three games are all ACC opponents ranked in the top 5, which means Syracuse will have to clean up its faceoff game in a hurry if it wants to make an NCAA Tournament push, starting during this Saturday’s home matchup against No. 5 North Carolina.
“Jacob and Danny is a nice one-two punch… and (freshman Jack) Savage is getting better and better,” Desko said. “I’m even seeing some of the younger guys come up and give the older guys a battle, so I think we’re improving as a unit.”