Duke vs. Syracuse: Three things to watch
The No. 2 seed and reigning national champion Orange (14-2) are seeking their 16th trip to the national title game in 26 attempts -- including their third NCAA tournament final since 2004. Meanwhile, the No. 3 seed Blue Devils (15-3) are trying to reach their second championship final in three years. Here are three developments that could determine the outcome of Saturday’s semifinal at noon at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass.
1.) It’s clear that the Syracuse and Duke offenses run through their respective excellent attackmen in Kenny Nims and Ned Crotty. So which quarterback will help his offense put up some points? Nims is a fantastic dodger who can score with either hand. Crotty is a field general with tremendous vision. I would guess that Nims would be shadowed by Blue Devils sophomore defenseman Mike Manley, who limited North Carolina sophomore attackman Billy Bitter to just two assists after he blistered UMBC for eight goals in the first round. Crotty could see a lot of Orange senior defenseman Sid Smith, but I wouldn’t be surprised if sophomore defenseman John Lade got the call. He has the speed to keep up with Crotty.
2.) Championship teams usually ride a hot goalie to nirvana. So will it be Duke senior Rob Schroeder or Syracuse sophomore John Galloway? Schroeder has looked shaky at times, but he seems to have settled down during the Blue Devils’ nine-game winning streak. Galloway is much improved from last season when he was perhaps the weakest goalie in the Final Four. But he’s overcoming a flu that kept him out of last Saturday’s quarterfinal against Maryland. If Duke can apply pressure, how will Galloway respond?
3.) Possession will be key as each offense would love to have extended, multiple cracks at the opposing defenses. With that in mind, it would appear that the Blue Devils have the advantage at the face-off X, where senior Sam Payton and freshman C.J. Costabile have helped the team win more than 54 percent of the face-offs. I thought the Orange would falter in that department against the Terps’ Bryn Holmes, but the duo of senior Jake Moulton and junior Gavin Jenkinson won 11 of 21 face-offs. The matchup here should be intriguing.