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SU Athletics 2012-2013 Year in Review

A banner year for the Orange

For a blog devoted to Syracuse Athletics, 2012-2013 was one of those years where you look back at it with a big smile on your face. Here at Orange::44, we focus mainly on football, men's basketball, and men's lacrosse -- the "Big 3" -- the money-makers for the Department. Over the life of this blog, each of those sports teams has had some dark days: the Greg Robinson Era, the NIT years, and lacrosse not making the tournament. So for a year like this to come along, where each of those sports saw great success, well, it makes being a fan a pleasure.

Football
The 2012 football season seems so long ago now, doesn't it? We're nearly nine months removed from the start of the season, and five months removed from the bowl game; and the 2013 season begins in three months. When it all started, did anyone realistically think the team would win the Big East? Have a winning season? Make it to a bowl game? Be Doug Marrone's final season? It was a surprisingly successful football season. The team had marquee wins over Pittsburgh, UConn, Louisville, Missouri, and South Florida. Ryan Nassib became one of the most successful quarterbacks in Syracuse history. After finishing with a respectable 7-5 regular season record and a share of the Big East title, Syracuse was invited to the Pinstripe Bowl to face West Virginia, a school who had just completed its first season in the Big 12 after competing for several years alongside Syracuse in the Big East. The annual battle for the Schwartzwalder Trophy had ended, but the Orange once again found itself lined up against the Mountaineers. Syracuse dominated at Yankee Stadium and brought the George Steinbrenner trophy back to Central New York once again.

Offensive lineman Justin Pugh gave up his final year of eligibility, entered the NFL draft, and was selected in the first round by the New York Giants. Joining him in the Meadowlands is Ryan Nassib, who was drafted much later than expected by the pre-draft hype. Shamarko Thomas also heard his name called on draft weekend.

Losing all that talent, what was Doug Marrone to do for next year? Sadly for the Orange, the answer was "Become the Head Coach of the Buffalo Bills." That news broke just a week after the Pinstripe Bowl victory. Reaction among Orange faithful was mixed; while most were happy for him being able to reach the pinnacle of one's coaching career and realize a life-long dream, fans were left feeling betrayed as Marrone took most of his Orange coaching staff down the thruway to Buffalo. Thankfully, he left Scott Shaffer behind, who Athletics Director Dr. Daryl Gross named the new Head Coach. So far he's said and done all the right things, and has done his best to put together a good recruiting class and maintain continuity within the program for the existing players, as the team heads into its first season in the ACC. I think it's fair to say we're all cautiously optimistic for this coming season and for years to come.

Men's Basketball
Oh Jim Boeheim, you old curmudgeon, you. But you're our curmudgeon, and we love you. As you may recall, the season started with a stabbing at Midnight Madness. The first game was on the deck of an aircraft carrier in San Diego. Jim Boeheim reached win #900, and shortly thereafter passed Bob Knight for second on the all-time wins list. There were a couple bumps in the road as the season trudged on, but this team was looking really good going into the first part of February. Hell, they had even traveled to Louisville, the number one team at the time, and beat them! But shortly into February, things started going badly. And then the ball wouldn't go in the hoop. We all remember that horrible February stretch. Georgetown visited the Carrier Dome in late February for one last Dome tilt as Big East foes, and beat the Orange in front of the largest Carrier Dome crowd in history. A week later, Louisville came in and avenged the earlier loss. The following week, Syracuse closed out the regular season by traveling to Georgetown, played one of the worst games in recent history, and got beat by the Hoyas. At that point, most people were writing off this Orange squad for a quick Big East Tournament exit and likely an embarrassing first round NCAA exit to an inferior team.

But our favorite curmudgeon still liked his team. He got them ready to compete in New York for the Orange's final Big East Tournament. A win over Seton Hall, and then over Pittsburgh, set up one last chance to play Georgetown as Big East members. The only way fate could have done that better is to set that up as the Big East title game. But we settled for the semifinals. And as fate would have it, these longtime rivals couldn't settle the score in a regulation 40-minute game. It took an overtime period, but finally Syracuse was victorious over the Hoyas. Already exceeding most people's expectations, the championship for Syracuse would go through Louisville. Sadly, a monster first-half Orange lead quickly flipped to a Cardinals blowout, and Syracuse went home runner-up.

Confidence was returned to the vocabulary of Orange fans heading into the NCAA Tournament. Games against Montana and California in the Oakland pod earned Syracuse a spot in the Sweet 16, playing in the much easier to travel to Washington DC. But there, #1-seed Indiana loomed. Arguably the most prolific offense of the tournament, the Hoosiers were held by the Orange 2-3 zone defense, as Syracuse advanced to the Regional Final against familiar foe Marquette. The same Syracuse shut-down defense did its thing against the Golden Eagles, and somehow, after that crazy ride, Syracuse found itself with its ticket punched to the Final Four in Atlanta. Unfortunately the Michigan Wolverines were too much for the Orange, but you can't not all that a successful season!

Men's Lacrosse
It used to be that Syracuse was one of a few elite national lacrosse programs: the best recruits, season by season success, guaranteed Final Four berths, and 11 National Championships. But the sport of lacrosse is one of the fastest growing sports in the country, and many more programs are competing at the elite level. Thus, the best recruits are more spread out, random teams may dominate from year to year, and Syracuse hadn't been to a Final Four since 2009. Coming off last year's disappointing season and first-round exit, there were a lot of questions surrounding the 2013 men's lacrosse team. Panic set in when the season opener was lost to Albany after two overtimes. Luckily, the Orange quickly righted the ship, with impressive wins over traditionally elite programs such as Virginia, Johns Hopkins, Princeton, and Cornell. Of course, of that group, only Cornell earned a Tournament bid. The season had a couple low points, namely the loss at Villanova, and the loss at home against Hobart. The team finished out the season strong, however, with a hard-fought win over Notre Dame in the Big City Classic, and then a mere five days later, another win over Notre Dame in the semifinals of the Big East Tournament. By defeating Villanova in the Big East Championship, the Orange earned an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament, and along with that, impressed the selection committee enough to earn a #1-seed.

In the Tournament, the Orange kept drama high. Whether it was overcoming early deficits, or giving up a big lead only to find a way to win in the waning minute(s) of the game, Syracuse made its way to the Final Four in Philadelphia. A tight win over Denver in the Final Four brought Syracuse to the title game against Duke. While it looked like Syracuse would dominate early, Duke woke up at the same time Syracuse fell asleep, and cruised to an easy 16-10 victory. It wouldn't be a 12th title for Syracuse, but the seniors finally got to taste a Final Four (and probably some cheese steaks).

Final Thoughts
For these "Big 3" combined, we saw two Big East titles, one bowl victory, and two Final Fours. Aside from the "Big 3," the women's basketball team had arguably its best season in school history and made an NCAA appearance. The women's lacrosse team carried over last season's success, and repeated a trip to the Final Four as well. Other team and individual sports at Syracuse also enjoyed some of their best seasons in recent memory. Suffice to say, the Syracuse University Athletics Department is sitting pretty right now. That's a great position to be in heading into the ACC in one month. The sports have done their part to invigorate the fan base; now it's up to us, the fans, to step up and support these student athletes as best as we can!

And with that, it's hiatus time. Don't expect much in the way of updates on this site until August comes around and we start preparing for football. That Penn State game is, what, 92 days away? We'll of course be here if anything big happens in the meantime, including legal analysis if necessary. Overall this season we haven't had to do much in the way of lawdog posts, but if the situation arises, you know who to turn to. We sure hope to not have to do that! So hopefully, until August, have a great summer!

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NCAA Lax Recap: Duke - Syracuse

Duke is STILL winning faceoffs

If you kept tabs on Syracuse's run through the NCAA Tournament to Monday's Championship game against Duke, you know that in many ways it was an unlikely run. In fact, coming off last year's 9-8 season and opening round loss to Duke, along with starting this season with an overtime loss to Albany, it's unlikely to even think that the Orange would have earned a #1 seed, let alone advance to the title game. In every tournament game - against Bryant, against Yale, and against Denver - Syracuse dug itself into a hole that required a comeback to achieve victory. You very easily could look at any of those games and said "Syracuse deserves to lose." But the team fought; they persevered; they won. So when the title game looked all too familiar, those who knew the recent history didn't panic. Maybe the team didn't panic either. Maybe they were complacent in the "Don't worry, we've got this" attitude. Whatever it was, it was not enough to secure a victory, as the Duke Blue Devils beat the Syracuse Orange 16-10 to earn the NCAA Division I Men's Lacrosse Championship.

The title game could not have started any better for Syracuse. In a first quarter completely dominated by the Orange, Duke was left surrendering goals to Billy Ward, Kevin Rice, Dylan Donahue, and Luke Cometti. Everything was clicking on offense for the #1 seed, and nothing was going right for the Duke offense. When the Blue Devils weren't committing sloppy turnovers, they were taking shots that Syracuse goalkeeper Dominic Lamolinara was seeking with eagle-eyed vision.

Those four unanswered goals in the first quarter became a 5-0 lead early in the second, as Donahue got back on the board again. 90 seconds later, Duke finally found net, but just over a minute later, Scott Loy scored to again return the Orange lead to five. And then, Duke woke up. The Blue Devils scored the next four goals to close out the half, and enter the locker room down only 6-5.

An early third quarter Duke goal left the game tied at 6, and through the next eight and a half minutes of game play, neither team scored. Donahue scored again, giving the Orange a 7-6 lead at 4:28 in the third. But then Duke never looked back. Four Duke goals closed out the third quarter, and a 10-7 margin was brought to the game's final 15 minutes.

Duke didn't let up as the fourth began. Goals at 13:39, 12:29, and 10:47 gave the Blue Devils a 13-7 lead. JoJo Marasco finally got on the scoreboard with unassisted goals at 8:11 and 7:36 to narrow the gap to 13-9. Duke, however, kept winning faceoffs and hitting dagger shots to keep this game safely out of reach for the Orange.

As you no doubt have read elsewhere, or witnessed by watching the game, it was Duke's dominance at the faceoff X (or dot, or whatever it's being called these days) that was essential to the trophy returning to Durham. Duke faceoff specialist Brendan Fowler not only won 20 of 28 faceoffs on the day (Duke was 21-30 on the day), but he also won the draws when they counted most. Those gaps in the game when Syracuse wasn't scoring? It wasn't because they couldn't get things going on offense. It was because they were on defense. Because Duke won the faceoffs. Syracuse has dealt with some great faceoff specialists this season, notably in the postseason, and still won. Their offensive efficiency was just that good. But it just wasn't to be this Memorial Day.

And so, we look back at what ended up to be a very successful season of lacrosse. For much of the season it was a wide-open field, and heading into Selection Sunday, Syracuse secured some great resume-building wins to earn that #1 seed. And making it to the title game proved that Syracuse was seeded right where it needed to be seeded. And, but for giving up a 5-0 lead and being owned by a faceoff wizard, Syracuse may have won title #12. But we'll never know.

At any rate, congratulations to the entire team and coaching staff for an amazing season. I'm especially happy for this year's seniors, who waited their entire college careers to play in a Final Four - an otherwise guarantee for all classes dating back thirty years. And they got to play in a title game, and almost win it. The underclassmen gained some valuable experience, not only in these tournament games, but in all the one-goal games throughout the season. They'll be well-seasoned vets for next season. Next season. First in the ACC. Yikes! We'll take suggestions on the correct adjective to use when describing the ACC Lacrosse league.

Check back later this week, as I wrap up the 2012-2013 year of Syracuse University Athletics before embarking on our annual summer hiatus.

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NCAA Lax Recap: Bryant - Syracuse

This is what "nearly 10,000" looks like, right ESPNU?

As the #1 seed of the Tournament, the Syracuse Orange should, in theory, have had the easiest game in round one. Their opponent, unseeded Bryant University from Rhode Island, had a losing record and was only in the Tourney due to winning their conference tourney. And then Syracuse went down 4-0.

The scouting report on the Bryant Bulldogs was basically this: they lost a crap ton of games to start the season, then won a bunch in a row, including their conference championship; their face-off specialist, Kevin Massa, led the nation in face-off percentage and would frustrate the Orange at the X. And... yeah. That. The final tally in this game was 22-1. I don't think I've ever seen a face-off deficit like that.

But that 4-0 start by the Bulldogs was about as good as they would get on Sunday night. Syracuse battled back to make it 4-3 at the end of the first. The second quarter was much slower for each team on offense, Syracuse scoring twice, and Bryant just once. So if you do the math right, that's a 5-5 tie at halftime.

Coming out of the locker room for the second half, Syracuse decided to play like a #1 seed, and rattled off goals at 12:54 and 9:24 to go up by two. Bryant battled back for a score at the 7:00 mark, but Syracuse answered with two more before Bryant found the back of the net once more with just under one minute left in the third quarter.

With a 9-7 lead going into the final 15 minutes of play, Syracuse was in the driver's seat. They had battled back after a horrible spot, tied the game, and in the second half attained the lead and kept it. Though the two goal margin at this point was nothing like a landslide, with the momentum swung entirely toward Syracuse, the Orange was in a great position to wrap down the final 15 minutes. Three more goals in the final quarter assured the victory for Syracuse, and the first round win over Bryant 12-7.

For Syracuse, the top scorer was Dylan Donahue, who had three goals on four shots. Kevin Rice and Luke Cometti each had two goals. JoJo Marasco, Scott Loy, Billy Ward, Matt Walters, and Ryan Barber each scored for the Orange as well. Rice also helped with two assists, while Marasco and Ward each had one assist. It was clear that Bryant was focusing on the Marasco game, so while they tried neutralizing JoJo, the rest of the team stepped up. I gotta give a lot of credit to the coaching staff and the players of Syracuse to make the adjustments they needed to make to find a way to win.

I already mentioned it, but damn, that Massa kid is downright nasty at the X. I assume if he's cheating or otherwise doing something he's not allowed to do, that he would have been called out on it by now; so, I guess he's just really, really good. Kudos to him.

Luckily, for Syracuse, the game is decided by goals scored, not face-offs won.

Penalties in this game were few & far between: Syracuse was penalized once (and killed the EMO), while Bryant had three penalties, leading to one EMO goal for Syracuse.

Most other stats, except the aforementioned face-off margin, were pretty even. The one other exception was turnovers; Bryant lost the ball 18 times, compared to the seven mistakes by the Orange. Overall it was a rather clean game, played at a nice pace. There were several times when I felt the officials were slow to call stall warnings against Bryant, but the officials did eventually call them. I still don't get why the officials can't operate an on-field shot clock instead of having this invisible, theoretical 30-second shot clock upon calling the stall warning. But alas, I'm not a policy maker.

The win by the Orange earns them a spot in the quarterfinals, and a Saturday afternoon date in Maryland against Yale. If you want to see the updated bracket with the correct match-ups for this coming weekend, be sure to check out my bracket predictions from last week; I correctly chose the winner for all eight first-round games. Brian missed a couple games, but we can't all be perfect all the time.

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2013 NCAA Lacrosse Bracket Picks

Who will play on Memorial Day? We think a match-up you've already seen once or twice.

Last Sunday night was the NCAA Division I Men's Lacrosse selection show. It's probably not as exciting or well viewed as the basketball selection show each March to usher in March Madness, but as lacrosse continues to grow as a sport, this selection show and this tournament is getting more attention. The lacrosse tournament consists of 16 teams, with the top eight being seeded 1-8 and hosting first-round games on campus against one of the unseeded teams. Therefore, you don't see a 1-16, 2-15, etc., as geography typically plays into the match-ups. Syracuse earned the #1 seed, and will host the Bryant Bulldogs in the Carrier Dome on Sunday at 7:30pm. The winner then moves onto the quarterfinals in College Park, Maryland on May 18. The other quarterfinal site is Indianapolis, Indiana. The Final Four and Championship, over the Saturday and Monday of Memorial Day weekend, will be hosted in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, at Lincoln Financial Field.

As we are wont to do here at Orange::44, Brian and I have filled out our brackets with winners of each game, up through choosing an eventual National Champion. They look pretty similar, and have a bit of homerism, but we both think they're pretty solid brackets.

Here is Brian's bracket:

And here's my bracket:
Feel free to harass us on twitter or in the comments section here if you disagree.

I'll be attending the Syracuse/Bryant game in the Dome on Sunday night, so look for a recap here on Monday. And if things fall the Orange's way in the first two games, Brian and I will be in Philadelphia for the Championships, so keep it here for continued coverage of the Orange Road to the Final Four, and keep checking out CollegeCrosse.com for your latest updates on the entire tournament.


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