On the line: Syracuse must beat North Carolina for chance at ACC tournament berth
Spencer Bodian | Staff Photographer
Three Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season matchups remain, posing a number of seeding scenarios for the conference tournament at April’s end.
But for Syracuse, those hypothetical scenarios are meaningless without a win over North Carolina on Saturday.
“With this schedule we’ve had all year, I think everything’s really been a tough turnaround,” senior attack Derek Maltz said. “We already know what happened (last) weekend with a couple ACC teams winning in our favor, so we know what needs to get done.”
Despite falling into a 0-3 hole to start conference play, Syracuse still has a chance to qualify for the four-team ACC tournament. After a momentum-stirring win at No. 6 Cornell on Tuesday, the No. 7 Orange (7-3, 1-3 ACC) hosts No. 4 North Carolina (9-2, 2-2) on Saturday at 6 p.m. in the Carrier Dome with conference playoff hopes on the line.
With a win over UNC, Syracuse would most likely earn itself the No. 3 or 4 spot in the ACC tournament. But a loss to the Tar Heels would certainly pencil Syracuse in for the consolation matchup between the fifth- and sixth-ranked teams, on the eve of the ACC championship game, and on the same PPL Park grass in Chester, Pa.
“We’re not trying to miss the first ACC tournament we can be a part of,” attack Kevin Rice said. “It’s a huge game for us.”
By way of some clever planning by the SU coaching staff and nearly flawless execution in Tuesday’s win over the Big Red, Syracuse has as much momentum going into its date with North Carolina as it’s had all season.
Following the Orange’s sloppy win over Binghamton on April 2, the coaches split up the practice week for the first time senior goalie Dominic Lamolinara could recall in his SU tenure. To comply with the NCAA’s mandate for scheduling practice, the SU staff gave the players Sunday off.
That allowed them to catch a breather before taking on the sixth-ranked Big Red, and also to dive right into UNC preparation on Wednesday.
“I think that was big for our legs. In this stretch of the season, when you’re playing two times a week, it’s tough,” Rice said after the win over Cornell. “I think you saw what we can do when we have a full week to get ready and prepared.”
What the Orange pieced together at Cornell was one of its most complete team efforts this year.
For the second time in three games, SU won more than half of the faceoffs. It converted on all but one of its 18 clearing attempts. Each of the starting attacks and midfielders scored at least one goal. And head coach John Desko called the defense’s performance one of the unit’s best of the season, holding the country’s No. 2 offense to just nine goals.
But Desko is not one to worry about making or missing the ACC tournament, since he’s confident his team’s strength of schedule — ranked the toughest in the country — would compensate when being assessed for an at-large bid in the NCAA tournament.
“Would you like to be No. 4 and make it and play Duke? Or are you better off being five or six and playing somebody else and coming out with a win?” Desko said on Monday.
“We’re going to eat whatever’s put on our plate. I’m just thinking out loud. The ACC tournament, it’s great obviously, but is it the end-all, do-all?”
Desko doesn’t buy into the “must-win” idea, let alone discuss the thought with his players. He prefers to let the nature of the situation speak for itself.
The players are feeling the heat. On Saturday, they’ll try to prove they can handle it.
Said Lamolinara: “Now the pressure’s on. It’s a big week for us, but that’s what we came here for.”
Published on April 9, 2014 at 10:39 pm