Schooling Schooler: Wither the Sun Devils?
Sure, Lacrosse Magazine Preseason Player of the Year Dylan Westfall (above) and the rest of the Arizona State defense is going to be just fine. But will the Sun Devils be able to visit the national title game for a third consecutive season with an anemic offense?
© Cecil Copeland
The topic du jour in the MCLA is obviously the BYU-Chapman game and how dramatic things played out in that contest, followed by the Cougars upset loss at the hands of Cal Poly on Monday. Still, there's a sub-story that played out over the weekend that has been lost in the static. The issue is admittedly in its infancy, but one worthy of keeping an eye on.
Arizona State's seemingly punchless offense.
In their first two games of the season, the second-ranked Sun Devils beat No. 21 Stanford, 8-6, and then followed that with a 5-4 defeat of divisional rival San Diego – the same Toreros program ASU beat 20-6 last year.
Admittedly, this isn't really a huge surprise. Chris Malone has been telling me since last May that this year's team was going to be very good defensively, but a work in progress on the offensive end. That's what happens when you start three freshmen. One assumes they'll be more comfortable over the course of the season, but how many seeds could be lost by that point?
It may be zero, and ASU may be right there in the second slot come May. But they are about to embark on a nine-game stretch in which eight teams are likely to be ranked, and five of those in the Top 10. The defense is good enough to keep them in every contest, but you can't pitch a shutout every game.
Simply put, the Devils' offense needs to get better quickly.
Nick, is it possible to be an elite team in the MCLA with an inexperienced attack?
SCHOOLER: The simple answer is no, but it's a little more complex than that.
As you have mentioned, they have a solid defense and a very good coach. As such, ASU will probably give some elite teams a good game, and could beat them with ball control and patience. At the same time, the Sun Devils could lose to a lesser team like what almost happened against San Diego this past weekend.
However, I do not think this is something for ASU fans and supporters to be worried about. They have a great coach and no trouble getting recruits accepted and committed to their school. In the long run, this young offense will have plenty of time to figure out how to play with each other. This could happen by season's end, but I guess we will just have to wait and see.
On a side note, I will not sit around and gloat about being up a game on Jac [Nick is 7-3, Coyne is 6-4]. I was up a few games early on last season, and Jac turned things around. On the positive side, being up a game does give me the opportunity to go out on a limb with some of my picks this week, which is what I have done. Jac is just playing it safe. I hope this does not backfire on me because I do not want to go back to my conservative ways.
On to the games...
No. 12 Florida State (5-1) at No. 13 Clemson (5-1) – Saturday, 1 p.m. (at Greenville, S.C.)
COYNE: This might be the game of the year in the SELC, and it's fitting that it will take place a stone's throw from where the MCLA tournament will be hosted this May. Both of these teams have looked solid, and the only loss on both schedules has come at the hands of No. 5 Boston College.
This game is going to come down to how well the Clemson defense plays in front of whichever goalie gets the green light for the Tigers (they've used four this season). Clemson will find plenty of chances on offense, especially with the high level that senior Chris Buechele (15g, 14a) is playing at right now. It'll be whether the Tigers can slow down the 'Noles at the other end.
These two teams will probably meet again down the road, but I see four goals from Brett Angerer and a 13-10 win for Florida State.
SCHOOLER: I have come down hard on Clemson in the past, but this is a new year.
I was impressed with what they did last year, and what they have done this year has been equally impressive. But I will not be a true believer until they beat the best in the SELC. That team is Florida State. This is the Tigers' chance, but I don't see it happening this time. With the performance Clemson put up against Boston College two weeks ago, I am afraid that they are not quite there yet. These two may meet again in the SELC championships, but until then, I am going with the 'Noles, 14-10.
No. 4 Arizona State (2-0) vs. No. 16 Texas (1-0) – Saturday, 6 p.m. CT (at New Orleans, La.)
COYNE: You're probably thinking that I set up the intro in order to take the Longhorns in this weekend's second annual Allstate Sugar Bowl Lacrosse Classic. I thought about it, but a couple of issues are keeping me away from making that leap.
First, Texas has only played one game – a modest win over Texas State – since their conference game against Rice was postponed last weekend. That's pretty raw to be heading into a game with the national runner-up, no matter how hard of a time the Sun Devils are having in the scoring department. Second, well, Texas still has a lot to prove. They beat Florida State last year at the beginning of the season and had a somewhat respectable result in the MCLA tourney against Chapman, but this is still the LSA. Picking UT is huge leap of faith.
I can't do it. I'll ride ASU's defense for another week, anyway. Devils, 7-5.
SCHOOLER: I am a game ahead of Jac, so I will take the bait.
I was at the 2010 game between Texas and FSU at a neutral location, and watched the Longhorns dismantle the Seminoles. A good portion of this young, but talented Texas team played and contributed in that game. Look for the Sun Devils to key in on Spencer Price, but the Texas midfield will swing this game in favor of the 'Horns. Texas takes the victory and jumps into the Top 10 with a 6-4 win.
No. 2 Colorado State vs. No. 3 Chapman – Saturday, 4 p.m. PT (at Beaverton, Ore.)
COYNE: Welcome to the game of the week, and a contest that could easily be a preview of either a quarterfinal or semifinal matchup in Greenville. As such, this is really a toss-up. Fresh in our minds is Chapman's overtime near-miss against BYU on Saturday and on the other side we have CSU, which has played a bunch of NCAA scrimmages and an appetizer against Northern Colorado. The tendency is to go with the somewhat known element.
I'm going to follow that tendency and pick Chapman, but I'm doing so with that hope that junior goalie Matt Sathrum plays the same way he did against the Cougars. That should be enough to subdue a Rams team that is a little behind the curve. Panthers, 11-9.
SCHOOLER: I agree: this is the most intriguing game of the week. Colorado State has lost a solid group of stars from last season, but year after year, they seem to find the next MCLA star. Will Austin Fisher be able to fill the shoes of Cooper Kehoe?
Chapman is in the same boat. They lost some solid starters, but we saw they were still able to hang with BYU, almost pulling out the win. Andrew Clayton has been solid for Chaptown over the years, and is the key to the Panthers success.
I have to support the SLC in this one mainly because Chapman has played more games and they have to be hungry for another win. I just hope they can stay healthy in their Friday night game against Oregon. I'm taking Chaptown, 10-9 in overtime.
Chico State (0-1) at Santa Clara (4-1) – Saturday, 2:30 p.m. PT
COYNE: I feel a little guilty reeling in our boy Nick on this one, but I'm down a game and this was an easy way to pick it back up. Because of his blue and yellow blinders, Schooler will assume Chico must be the real deal after handling the Gauchos for a good stretch of their game on Saturday. And, in the Wildcats' defense, they are a decent team, but they are battling uphill in this one.
Not only is Santa Clara playing at home, but the Broncos will have five games under its belt. Meanwhile, a young Chico squad is on the road with one-games experience against a Gauchos team we're still not sure what to make of. The balanced offense of Santa Clara and a decent game by rookie goalie Jake Barz should be enough. Broncos, 15-10.
SCHOOLER: Don't feel guilty about this one, Coyne, because I know I have the right pick. I was happy that I did not have to choose between the Gauchos and Wildcats last week, because I was worried that Chico would win that game. It was close, but the Gauchos were able to out-gun them.
The bottom line is Chico State can score a lot of goals in a short period of time. The Santa Clara defense is not solid enough to hold off the assault that the Wildcats offense brings, and the Broncos offense is not strong enough to counter it. So I am taking Chico, 17-12.
SCHOOLER: Let's face it. Florida had a very tough season last year. It was the worst one that I can remember, so I hope they have found a way to rebound. This game will be a great test for them. They have always played Georgia close and this will tell us if they have kept up with their Gym, Tan, Lax routine in the off-season.
The Bulldogs already have six games under their belt. That's a lot of games for this early in the season, and they have likely worked out the kinks. On the other hand, the Gators have yet to be tested. Who knows if this team has improved at all from last season? Until I see otherwise, I am not sold. I have the Bulldogs winning on their home turf, 9-8.
COYNE: I find both of these teams enigmatic, mostly because I've never written a feature story on either team. Consequently, I don't have a very good feel for these programs at all.
Georgia was fantastic in '08, and nearly derailed the Michigan freight train before it left the station when the Wolverines needed a hidden ball trick to beat the Dawgs, 10-8, in the MCLA quarterfinals. Since then, however, UGA has been a non-factor in both the SELC and the national scene. Florida had a bit of a stinker in '11, but that's what happens when you play (and, more importantly, travel to) the top programs in the country on an annual basis. The Gators may have taken their lumps last year, but they'll be better for it this spring. I like UF comfortably, 12-8.