It’s the first time the two teams have met as ACC opponents. In fact, it’s the first time the Tar Heels and the Orange have even played each other since 1996.
And it’s the first time that the game’s decision affects who competes in the ACC Tournament.
“I’m pretty sure we control our own destiny,” said junior attackman Joey Sankey. “That’s what we’re focusing on, just getting that win and being in the top four for a chance to win the ACC championship.”
Only the top four teams in the ACC advance to the conference tournament, and the UNC-Syracuse game could decide who is left out.
“(Syracuse is) definitely hungry,” Sankey said. “They need a win, and we need a win, too, so it’s going to be a good game.”
To clinch a tournament spot, UNC can look to other ACC teams that have faced Syracuse — most notably, Duke.
“Our offense is similar to Duke’s,” Sankey said. “Hopefully we can see what they did and exploit the same things that Duke did. “
Duke squeezed 21 goals out of the Orange’s defense while Syracuse only managed to score seven goals. Syracuse’s offense isn’t dormant though. On Tuesday, Syracuse’s dynamic attack duo of Randy Staats and Kevin Rice knocked in a combined eight goals against No. 6 Cornell.
Duke’s solution to the Orange’s offense came at the faceoff.
“The more pressure a good team puts on a defense, no matter who you’re playing, it’s going to pile snow on the roof,” said coach Joe Breschi. “Eventually, it’s going to cave in.”
Duke’s faceoff man, Brendan Fowler, helped the Blue Devils pile on snow in that game, but Syracuse’s Chris Daddio can still be competitive at the faceoff X.
“What we’ve seen on film is that the faceoff X is a big part of possessions,” Breschi said.
“When they’ve won the faceoff X — and they’ve struggled this year at the faceoff X — they’ve done a nice job and they’ve won games.”
Daddio won a majority of the faceoffs in Syracuse’s wins against Notre Dame and Cornell. He’ll be facing UNC’s R.G. Keenan, a senior who is coming off a knee injury.
“He’s a good player,” Keenan said. “We’ve gone against each other in summer ball and in high school and stuff like that. He’s just a scrappy kid.”
Breschi said that scrappiness means Daddio will turn the faceoff into a scrum and will rely on wing players to maintain possession of the ball. To win faceoffs, Keenan will need to nail his timing and take the ball cleanly.
“He’s made major progress and is getting back to the R.G. we know,” Breschi said.
Keenan said he’s been taking countless faceoffs in preparation for Daddio.
“They’re going to play very hard,” Keenan said. “We’re going to get their A-game, and we have to be ready for them.”