There's a reason Odysseus left for ten years.
To say that tonight's contest against Cornell is a "big game"/"must win" would be an historic understatement. The Orange desperately needs to defeat the Big Red tonight if it hopes to entertain any chance at cementing a position in next month's field of sixteen.
In short (and to break out one of the most tired cliches in all of sports), tonight is like a playoff game -- it's win or go home time.
Over the last couple of years, Schoellkopf Field has been a House of Horrors for Syracuse. Since 2000, Syracuse has lost two out of its last three contests against the Big Red in Ithaca, with the Orange's lone victory coming in 2004 when Mike Powell and Company gutted out a 12-10 decision. Coupled with the fact that Cornell is armed with its finest stable of athletes since its glory days of the late 1970's and it becomes painfully clear that Syracuse faces a monumental challenge this evening.
Thus, given the awesome ramifications of tonight's upstate throwdown, I thought I'd piece together what amounts to a shoddy preview. I figure if Post-Standard staff writer Donna Ditota can fumble through a half-assed assessment of tonight's game, I too should dabble in the arena of pointless drivel passed off as reasoned analysis and insight.
|Victory Factors: Team Offense|
While Cornell may not blister the field with breakneck pace like Virginia, the Big Red maintains one of the most efficient and disciplined offenses in 2006. Led by All-America Joe Boulukos, Cornell takes advantage of every possession they generate by peppering the cage with terrific shot selection and measured pace. In a word, this Cornell attack could easily wear the tag of "assassins."
This assessment is buttressed by two notions. First, while Cornell isn't generating a lot of possessions, it is making the most of them by attempting more than a shot per possession. That is indicative of three things: a dedication to backing up errant shots, putting nice attempts on net that either result in a tally or a save by the goal tender, and a resilience to turning over the bean.
When a team focuses on such fundamental aspects of the game as those illustrated above, an opposing defense must work twice as hard to tread water.
Second, Cornell is scoring on a third of its possessions. That is awesome. Thus, not only is Cornell making the most of its possessions from a shot perspective, but each shot carries great value for the Big Red as they are ringing the bell a lot when the offense touches the ball. That is a testament to the number of finishers the team has this season.
While Cornell's terrific efficiency is worrisome, it may not ultimately rule the day for Coach Jeff Tambroni's bunch. Cornell, like Syracuse, has struggled mightily this season at the face-off "x" winning only 43.2% of its draws. If the Orange can continue its upward improvement at this facet of the game, Cornell's precision offense may be somewhat neutralized.
In essence, Syracuse needs to do everything it can to limit the number of possessions Cornell is able to generate.
As for Syracuse's offense, the Orange have been somewhere between average and above average all season. Clearly, the Syracuse attack has not matched what Cornell has been able to accomplish offensively this season from an efficiency standpoint. However, if the Syracuse offense performs at the level it has against Princeton and Loyola -- which is marginally better than its overall season performance -- the Orange can rely on its hottest unit -- the defense -- to win the game.
With that said, I would still like to see a dedication to sound shot selection out of the Orange tonight. That does not mean that Syracuse needs to slow down the pace of play as it did against Princeton on Saturday (in fact, I think this team plays better offensively when it plays with more pace). It simply means that Syracuse must put more shots on net from preferential scoring positions. A great way to measure whether this occurs is charting the number of assists the Orange register on the night.
In short, if Syracuse can raise its shooting percentage tonight, I think the offense will be able to do enough to give this team a shot at victory.
|Victory Factors: Team Defense|
I am still not sold on the Orange's apparent defensive turnaround. Over the last two games, Peter Coluccini has been asked to make 34 saves, 19 coming Saturday against Princeton. That is indicative of both Coluccini's raw talent and the incredible amount of luck he has been toying with of late. Even Coluccini stated as much in a recent article published by the Post-Standard:
"To tell you the truth, I have no clue how I made those saves," Coluccini said. "I was just reacting to the shots. I was able to get my body on a couple of them and then I had that one from 5-6 yards that I just went the right way."With that said, Syracuse must continue to ride the defensive wave it has been on the last couple of games. Tonight, the Orange defense will not have the luxury of facing a depleted offensive unit (as in Loyola) or a team that simply put a lot of poor shots on cage (as in Princeton). Cornell is lightening quick and have million scoring options that can fill up the net quickly and efficiently. As a consequence, a lot will be on Steve Panarelli, John Wright, and Nathan Kenney to mark their men closely and somehow limit the number of clean looks the Big Red gets on cage.
Also, if Syracuse provides Cornell the number of possessions it has allowed its opponents this season, the Orange will lose because the Big Red are simply too good with the ball (31.42 shooting percentage). So, it appears as if Syracuse's success hinges on two aspects of the defensive game: 1) limitation of the number of clean looks at Peter Coluccini; and 2) limitation of Cornell offensive possessions by forcing a solid ride and backing up errant shots in the defensive end.
As for Cornell, the Big Red defense may be one of the most underappreciated units in the country. The numbers above are a great illustration of an efficient unit simply doing its job correctly. The Cornell defense, with respect to its statistical output, has limited the number of good looks afforded to an opposing offense and is creating a lot of empty possessions.
What more could a coach ask for?
It is for this reason that I believe Syracuse needs to dedicate itself to making good decisions from a shot selection standpoint this evening. If Cornell's offense sputters tonight against what may be a resurgent Syracuse defense, Cornell's defense is good enough to keep the Big Red in the game. Thus, it is imperative that Syracuse perform efficiently against this highly undervalued unit.