Whenever the Virginia Cavaliers and Syracuse Orange get together on the lacrosse field, they have the eyes of the entire sport. In their 31 all-time meetings, Virginia holds just a one-game lead, 16-15.
The 2016 season, however, has seen the two teams start in dramatically different directions. SU cruised to two easy victories before a nail-biter win over Army. The Hoos, meanwhile, opened with a drubbing by Loyola, a solid road win over Drexel, then a crushing one-goal home loss to High Point before righting the ship against Penn.
Here are three things to watch in tonight's game
Who wins the face-off battle?
Syracuse's Ben Williams is third in Division I in faceoff percentage at 71.2 percent. Virginia's Jason Murphy is seventh at 69.4 percent. Something's gotta give. Last year, that something was Murphy, as Williams won 15 of 19 faceoffs against the Hoos and powered Syracuse to a 15-9 win. Murphy's play at the X is—pardon the pun—the X-factor for the home team, as is the ability of the faceoff wings to get to the middle and control whatever rolls out of the scrum.
Which team will bring the energy?
SU's Jordan Evans, rocking the Orange #22 this year, has spoken openly about trying to improve Cuse's transition game. Virginia looked lackadaisical in the early season before showing more willingness to go to the cage and press the advantage against Penn. For a rivalry as heated as this one, there should be no problem with either side being up and ready to rumble. Whichever team is more able to focus that energy into getting after the other guys' defense should have the upper hand.
Could the weather be a factor?
"But Syracuse is from upstate New York," you say. Aye, grasshopper, but the Orange have yet to play outside the cozy confines of the Carrier Dome this season, and Desko's squad practices at a new indoor facility they share with the football program. The Hoos, meanwhile, have played two of their four games in cold, wet conditions. After Charlottesville saw three inches of snow on Thursday night into Friday, the field at Klockner is unlikely to be in pristine condition. March has come in like a lion and could very well affect footing, sightlines, and pace of play tonight.