SU Men’s Lacrosse Season Preview: Key Matchups
By Braden Reed | @BradenReed6
It’s an exciting time to be a Syracuse men’s lacrosse fan. Fresh faces both on the field and on the sideline have brought about a palpable buzz ahead of the first game of the season against Holy Cross. It likely won’t be all sunshine and rainbows though, as seven games against teams inside the top six of the preseason poll will test SU all season long. With less than 24 hours before the Orange get their season underway, let’s hit on a few important matchups on the road ahead for the ‘Cuse, and talk about what it might take to reach the NCAA tournament.
vs. #2 Maryland, 2/20
Outside of the season opener against Holy Cross, Syracuse doesn’t have the benefit of being eased into its schedule. The Terps travel to the Dome and look to spoil Gary Gait’s jersey retirement ceremony in what will be an early litmus test for the Orange’s ceiling this season. Led by Brett Makar on defense, Kyle Long at midfield, and Logan Wisnauskas at attack, Maryland is loaded up and down the field. All three of those players were named to the Tewaaraton Watch List, the award given to the most outstanding player in college lacrosse. SU fighting an uphill battle will be a theme all season long with the number of top-ranked opponents on the schedule, and the first test comes very early on.
@ #1 Virginia, 2/26
Things don’t get any easier after Maryland. Syracuse immediately hits the road for its next game against none other than the defending champs. The Hoos aren’t expected to miss a beat this season either, five Inside Lacrosse Preseason All-Americans prove just that. And after handling Air Force in their season opener last week, it should be business as usual for Lars Tiffany’s squad. UVA did graduate goalkeeper Alex Rode and lost assumed-replacement Bobby Gavin to Syracuse via the transfer portal, but top-ranked recruit Matthew Nunes will fill that role right away. These two games are going to be tough early tests for the Orange, and we’ll figure out pretty quickly the team’s outlook for the rest of the season.
vs. Hobart, 3/6
This game is more representative of Syracuse’s non-conference schedule as a whole, but with the Kraus-Simmons trophy on the line, a little bit more is at stake. The overall point about the non-conference games is that the Orange need to take care of business and build up their win total because they’ll need it come Selection Sunday. Out of seven non-conference games, five or six wins will likely be needed given the difficulty of their ACC schedule. No game is a gimme, but SU is more talented than every team not in their conference and needs to stack up wins when given the opportunity.
vs. #3 Duke, 3/26
Syracuse almost pulled off what would’ve been a season-changing upset in Durham last year, but Stephen Rehfuss was robbed on the doorstep by Blue Devils goalie Mike Adler with less than a second to go. Don’t let last year’s heartbreak fool you, though, Syracuse has had Duke’s number over the last few years, winning seven of the last nine matchups. John Danowski’s squad is as talented as ever, and Brennan O’Neill is even more frightening considering what he was able to do as a freshman. But don’t rule out an upset in the Dome, one that would raise SU’s tournament hopes dramatically.
vs. #5 Notre Dame, 5/1
This game is another one that should be circled as a potential upset for the Orange. The Irish are a fantastic team and have a bonafide stud as well. Pat Kavanagh returns as a junior after he finished as a Tewaaraton Award finalist in 2021, the first time that feat’s been accomplished since 2017. The question mark for ND is who will step up as a second option, Kavanagh had more than double the points of the second-leading scorer on the team last year. Syracuse will travel to South Bend in early April to get its first look at Notre Dame before the two sides meet in the Dome for the Orange’s regular season finale. Even if the Irish get the win in the first matchup, it’s very hard to beat a team twice in one season and Syracuse could be playing for a tournament bid at that point, increasing its chances to grab an upset in this one.
Expectations for Syracuse relative to its fellow ACC members aren’t high: the Orange are projected to finish fifth in the conference and are the lowest-ranked team of the group at number 12. A conference championship is very unlikely, and according to Ted Hust of the Lax Factor podcast, so is a top-three finish, but those two things aren’t needed for a tournament bid. SU got in as a seven-win team in 2021, and if Gary Gait’s group can take care of the non-conference schedule and snag a conference win or two over the course of the season, tournament lacrosse is not out of the realm of possibility for the ‘Cuse this season.
Final Record Prediction: 8-6 (2-4 Atlantic Coast), NCAA tournament appearance