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Syracuse will close out the NCAA regular season Friday when it welcomes Robert Morris to the Carrier Dome for the first time in program history. With no Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament, this is the final game the Orange will play before the NCAA Tournament selection show on May 9.
The Orange were conference favorites heading into the season but finished ACC play with just two wins, sitting in last place as the only conference team outside the top-five. A team that was once projected to be a top seed is now left hoping that there won’t be any bid stealers in conference tournaments this week.
Utah was originally scheduled to face Syracuse this weekend, but when the game was canceled due to budget cuts in the Utes’ program, the Orange scheduled a final matchup with the Colonials instead.
Here’s everything you need to know about Robert Morris before Friday’s regular-season closer.
Friday will be the first time Syracuse and Robert Morris face each other.
The Robert Morris report
The Colonials started out their season with a 16-12 loss to Duke in February. RMU led for most of the first half before allowing an eight-goal run, which it was unable to answer. While they have no standout wins on their resume, the Colonials do have a four-goal win over Utah, who has been ranked earlier this season, and a two-goal loss to then-No. 9 Virginia in Charlottesville, Virginia.
This season, RMU and its opponents are equal in almost every offensive category. Opponents score .25 more goals per game, take .3 more shots per game and score .25% more often on shots. The Colonials score .05 more goals per game on average than Syracuse, an essentially equal matchup.
While Robert Morris’ offense remains consistent, the defense is top-20 in the country in caused turnovers, ground balls and clearing percentage. Liam Rosenthal, RMU’s primary goalie, has a higher save percentage than Drake Porter. Still, RMU has the 11th-worst scoring defense in the country.
This year marks RMU’s first season as a member of the Horizon League after moving from the Northeast Conference this summer. The Horizon League doesn’t sponsor lacrosse, so all 12 of the Colonials’ games have been against nonconference opponents. Friday will be RMU’s fourth ACC matchup of the season.
How Syracuse beats the Colonials
This will be a high-scoring game on both sides of the field. The Orange and Colonials both score and allow nearly the same number of goals per game. Syracuse has struggled on defense this season, even against unranked opponents, allowing 63 shots to Notre Dame earlier this year.
Head coach John Desko said Wednesday that Mitch Wykoff has guarded opponents’ top players for most of the season, but doesn’t guarantee that he will in this game. With defender Nick DiPietro out for the season and other defensive players questionable for Friday, veteran defenders Wykoff and Grant Murphy will have to try and keep the game out of reach for the Colonials.
Stat to know: 9.42
The Colonials are seventh in the country in caused turnovers per game, and Syracuse is fifth-best in turnovers. That, combined with a .875 clear percentage for RMU, will cause the Orange issues in maintaining possession and creating scoring opportunities.
Working in the Orange’s favor, however, is the fact that the Colonials win less than half of their faceoffs. Syracuse’s faceoff men — Jakob Phaup especially — have struggled a lot this season and have been at the root of the Orange’s possession woes. While they’ll likely turn the ball over a lot on Friday, they can avoid RMU having a lot of possessions by keeping the ball on their side of the field by taking those faceoff wins.
Player to watch: Ryan Smith, Attack, No. 1
Smith is easily RMU’s best player, leading the team in goals, assists and caused turnovers. He has as many goals as anyone else on the team has points, and the graduate student is tied with Hofstra’s Ryan Tierney for the sixth-most goals per game in the country (3.42).
Last season, Smith broke RMU’s single-game record for points (10 against Canisius) and is currently sixth all-time for goals, assists and points. In 2020, he was taken third overall in the NLL entry draft by the Rochester Knighthawks.
Against Duke, Smith had three goals and an assist, with seven shots on goal. Chase Scanlan is the only player that scored more goals in SU’s game against the Blue Devils. He also had five points in RMU’s 14-12 loss to UVA on March 20.
The post Opponent preview: What to know about Robert Morris appeared first on The Daily Orange.