Syracuse faces fifth-seeded Georgetown in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. (TV: ESPNU). Here are three major storylines heading into the game.
It’s a new season
Syracuse started the season No. 4 in the polls, and with good reason. The Orange returned most of their key pieces from a team that started 2020 5-0 and was ranked No. 1 when the season was prematurely cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
But the Orange was routed in its season opener by No. 14 Army, 18-11, and struggled to a 7-5 finish, finishing 10th in the polls.
Perhaps most concerning was its play against ACC foes North Carolina and Notre Dame. In three games against those two teams, Syracuse lost by a combined 61-28.
Still, Syracuse posted two wins over fourth-seeded Virginia, and pushed No. 2 Duke to the edge before ultimately losing 15-14.
Taken as a whole, it shows the Orange can beat—and lose to—anyone.
“It’s a new season,” attack man Stephen Rehfuss said. “It doesn’t matter what your record was; you have a clean slate.”
That clean slate has proven to be a motivating factor.
Said Syracuse head coach John Desko: “There’s an extra hop in their step this week knowing what’s at stake.”
Porter remains confident
It’s been a struggle for Syracuse goalie Drake Porter in his senior season.
Currently, Porter is ranked 53rd in save percentage of 61 eligible candidates. He’s given up 154 goals through 12 games, though he’s also faced more shots and has recorded the second most saves (141) this year. Porter’s low came in a 22-8 drubbing against Notre Dame on May 1. He allowed 18 goals and had just a .250 save percentage.
Compare that to 2020, when Porter recorded a .577 save percentage, which ranked 12th nationally, and was second in the ACC with 12.8 saves per game.
Still, despite the dip in numbers, Porter isn’t concerned.
“The law of averages will work out,” Porter said. “With my talent, I’ll be right where I want to be.”
Porter, a fifth year senior, also knows that the next game may be the last one he plays in an SU uniform.
“Knowing this could be my last three weeks with guys I’ve spent five years with, I’m just trying to enjoy this week with my friends,” Porter said.
Desko wants to return in 2021
Win or lose, Desko made his intentions clear for the 2022 season.
“As far as I’m concerned, that decision has already been made,” Desko said. “If it’s up to me, I’m coming back.”
Desko has won 264 games during his coaching career with the Orange, and has led SU to five NCAA titles, though none since 2009. He was elected to the National Lacrosse Hall of Fame in 2020.
Of course, Desko’s desire to return is only half the equation. The SU administration will also want to have him back.
“It hasn’t come up,” Desko said when asked if he’s had conversations with athletic director John Wildhack about coaching beyond May.
Desko may also have some coaching staff decisions to make at the conclusion of the season. The Orange, pegged as title contenders at the start of the season, have struggled at the faceoff X this season, and on defense, where they have given up 18 or more goals four separate times this season.
“We’ll look at things at the end of the year, but I have a good staff,” Desko said. “I think it’s had a lot to do with the amount of defense we’ve had to play.”