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Virginia Lacrosse Preview: Syracuse

Hoos open their ACC slate on the road against No.2 Syracuse

Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

Who: No.2 Syracuse Orange
When: Sunday, March 1, 12:00
Where: Carrier Dome, Syracuse, NY
How to Watch: ESPNU

There's nothing like Syracuse week. Two programs with storied histories, consistently ranked in the top of the polls, full of unbridled talent, and played on the biggest stage. Last season, the Hoos dominated the Orange 17-12 on "Everyone Beats Syracuse Day" behind seven goals from James Pannell. The year before that, Syracuse snuck by Virginia 9-8 in overtime in the Dome in the first game in the history of the series in which neither team reached double digits.

This year, Syracuse enters the game second in the rankings, while Virginia is fifth. ESPNU is picking up the broadcast, and neither team has tasted bitter defeat yet in the year 2015.

The Orange have wins over Siena (21-7), Cornell (14-6), and Army (12-9) and average a blistering 15.67 goals per game while only giving up 7.33. Redshirt junior Dylan Donahue leads the team in scoring with 11 goals, four assists, and converting 55% of his shots. Tricky attackman Randy Staats has contributed six goals and seven assists, and Kevin Rice and Hakeem Lecky have 12 and 10 points, respectively. Sharpshooter Nicky Galasso, who spent his first two years at North Carolina, is off to a hot start (six goals, two assists) after a relatively quiet redshirt junior season (sat out 2013 with an injury).

Defensively, the Hoos will see Sean Young, Brandon Mullins, and Jay McDermott who have combined for 11 ground balls and nine caused turnovers. In the cage, Bobby Wardwell has stood tall with a 57.8% save percentage and a meager 7.42 goals against average.

The faceoff X will be a huge key to this game, and Syracuse packs a lot of punch with Ben Williams who has gone 47-67 (70.1%) in the first three games. Virginia has struggled at the faceoff, but have improved each game this season, culminating in winning 12 of 23 (52%) against Rutgers. Jason Murphy went just 2 for 12 against Loyola, but has been 12-16 from the X since. The wings will once again be huge as each 50/50 ball is important and Coach Starsia stresses no quick goals from the face.

Virginia's defense has matured quickly, decreasing goals allowed in each game and giving up an average of 9 goals per game at this point. Davi Sacco has continued his top level play with four groundballs and five caused turnovers, while the first year duo of Logan Greco and Scott Hooper have combined for seven groundballs and three caused turnovers. Long stick midfielders Tanner Ottenbreit (three caused turnovers) and Michael Howard (five caused turnovers) have been disruptive during clears and on faceoffs.

The Wahoo man down defense has allowed just one goal in eight attempts, but Syracuse has scored on four of eight of their advantage opportunities.

Matt Barrett in cage has improved dramatically from last season (especially at this point). He is coming off of a 12 save game in the snow against Rutgers, and has a 55% save percentage. His performance, especially from the standpoint of leading the defense, will be huge in this matchup as none of the defensive starters (including Barrett himself) have ever played at the Carrier Dome or in the hype that accompanies it.

Ryan Tucker and the Cavalier midfield have impressed so far this season with the first line accounting for 20 goals and 10 assists through the first three games. Zed Williams leads the team with eight goals and four assists, and has looked unstoppable at times. He's quick, smart, and knows when to make a move for himself and when to dish the rock. When he runs, he looks as though he's moving at 75%, then blows by the defender with ease.

On attack, Ryan Lukacovic, Owen Van Arsdale, and James Pannell have been pretty balanced with 10, seven, and six points, respectively. Lukacovic works well from the X, and can create his own shot on the crease roll or with a sharp cut. Pannell has struggled with just an 18% shooting percentage, but when his shot is on...look out.

Expect a run-and-gun high scoring affair in this one as both teams like to get out in transition and have solid shooters. This will be the biggest test so far for the young Virginia defense, but their communication and fundamentals have been surprisingly good to open the season against tough competition. Opening the ACC schedule 1-0 would be a huge statement for Virginia, because the schedule certainly isn't getting any easier from here on out.