Of the four teams left in the NCAA tournament semifinals, it is top-seeded Syracuse – the architect of a Division I-best 10 national championships – that is bringing up the rear in the offense department.
The Orange are averaging 11.7 goals this season, which ranks 13th in the country – a still healthy number that many other programs would love to boast. But unlike previous Syracuse incarnations that dared opponents to keep up with them as they galloped up and down the field like a pack of unbridled thoroughbreds, this year’s current squad is viewed as a more patient outfit, a group that prides itself on locking down opponents on defense and exhibiting patience on offense.
The Orange (15-3) have scored 19 goals in two NCAA tournament games, lagging behind seventh-seeded Duke (24 goals), fourth-seeded Denver (31) and unseeded Cornell (32). Syracuse’s opponent in Saturday’s national semifinal is the Pioneers (14-4), a team that can match any offense in the country when it comes to putting the ball in the net.
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But Orange coach John Desko dismissed the notion that his team would be content at playing at a pace bordering on plodding.
“If we have a fastbreak, we’re certainly going to take it,” he said during a conference call Tuesday morning. “We saw some things that [fifth-seeded North] Carolina had done where they really tried to push it going from defense to offense. So we’ll certainly look at that. I supposed it could be a high-scoring game, and we wouldn’t back down from that – although both offenses have been patient at times. If the other team is playing good defense, both teams like to be efficient at the offensive end, especially us with the faceoff situation. So I have no idea. Would we shy away from it or not like it? No, not necessarily. [At] Syracuse, the fastbreak style and the fast-paced style is in our blood, and we’ll take it if it happens. But if it’s not there, we’ve got to be patient.”
The Pioneers are not exactly known for their defense, which has surrendered 9.7 goals per game – which ranks 21st in the country and is just a few-tenths better than Duke among the Final Four teams. So the situation could be ripe for the shootout, which, Desko re-emphasized, he is not averse to.
“If we have opportunities, we’ll take them and we always do that,” he said. “But depending on what kind of defense we’re seeing, we could see some zone, which they’ve used quite a bit this year, and that usually forces you to take your time and work it. Their faceoff guy [senior Chase Carraro] likes to get it the ball out front. So I’m sure that if they have fastbreaks, they’re going to take the opportunity. But on the other hand, we’re going to try not to give those up either. So whichever team takes away the other’s strengths, I think you’re going to see a patient team. And if one of the teams doesn’t, I think you’re going to see a team go to the goal.”