Each week, The Baltimore Sun will publish a Q&A with a college lacrosse player or coach to get you better acquainted with the player and his or her team.
Today's guest is Syracuse coach John Desko, who guided his alma mater to last year's NCAA tournament championship final, where it lost to Duke, 16-10.
The 11-time national champion Orange will make its debut in the Atlantic Coast Conference this season.
What's it like to join the ACC?
It's exciting to be in the conference. Aren't all six teams in the top 10 this year? It's exciting to be there, but it's certainly a challenge to come out of such a conference with more wins than losses.
Could you envision a scenario where an ACC team goes 0-5 in the conference and still earns an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament?
I can, yes. I can see that. I think it's a tough conference. Your fear is to have a little bit of an off year and maybe be at the bottom of the conference and wondering about the playoffs. But a great example this year is you've got six teams in the top 10 in the country and if someone wasn't to win the conference or was at the bottom, potentially you could be the sixth-best team in the country. So I think it's been an age-old discussion about the ACC and playing one another in the conference and then in the ACC tournament again. Your three main criteria for making the NCAAs is your wins and losses in the top five, 10, 15, 20 and so on, your strength of schedule, your RPI. Like ourselves last year, for example, we played Notre Dame twice and we beat them twice and they had the No. 1 RPI in the country. So when the selection committee looked at Syracuse, we had two No. 1 wins based on the RPI. You could do the same thing in the ACC. You could have wins and you could have losses, but your losses might be to the top five teams in the country and by playing them, you also have played [Nos.] 1 through 5 in the country and no one's going to be able to have a similar schedule as you. And you're not being hurt by your RPI if you're losing to Nos. 1, 2, 3, 4 or 5. You're going to be hurt a lot more in your RPI if you're losing to No. 20 or 25 or 30, and the fact that you have them on your strength of schedule is going to give you one of the top schedules in the country.
For a long time Syracuse was independent before joining the Big East and now the ACC. Does moving require a different mindset?
It took us awhile to adjust to the Big East. I think we had had so much success and I think the Syracuse mindset would be to win a national championship and having not been involved in the conferences before, when somebody won their conference, it was great for those teams to win their conferences, but it didn't mean a lot to us. We didn't understand what it meant to win a conference championship. We had a little better understanding a couple years ago when St. John's had beaten Notre Dame in the semis [of the Big East tournament in 2012] and we went on to beat St. John's to win the Big East championship. That gave us the [automatic qualifier] to go into the tournament. So I think we had a better understanding of that because I don't think we would have made that tournament that year unless we went in as the [automatic qualifier]. So it kind of educated us.
What would be the mark of a successful 2014 for Syracuse?
I think Syracuse is different from most places. A national championship is the expectation. This group, we've been functioning well as a team. So just to play well is a good thing. If you play well, the games take care of themselves.