Through two rounds of the NCAA men's basketball championship, many pre-tournament favorites are out -- but not Syracuse, who backed up its top seed by going to Buffalo's HSBC Arena and ripping both Vermont and Gonzaga.
Going in, some SU fans were wary, based on past history and the Big East's relative struggles in this tournament. In 2005, the Orange was a victim of an enormous upset in Worcester, Mass, when Vermont shocked them in overtime. And in the first round, Notre Dame, Marquette, Georgetown, and Louisville were all eliminated. Villanova and Pittsburgh would bow out in the second round.
Aware of all this, SU did not want to join those teams on the sidelines. And it didn't let Vermont recapture its 2005 magic, either, as in the first round Friday night the Orange put an abrupt halt to the upset plans of the Catamounts, crushing them 79-56.
For the most part, SU overwhlemed Vermont with a strong balanced offense supported with an effective 2/3 zone that, among other things, blocked eight shots on the night. The Orange limited Vermont to 34.8 percent (23-for-66) from the field and five of 22 attempts from 3-point range.
"Tonight I thought our defense was much better," head coach Jim Boeheim said. "I thought that was the one thing we talked about over the last few days was to get back on the defensive end. We just had the bad turnovers at the end of the first half that got them back into it."
Amid a well-balanced attack, five players scored in double figures. Finally healed, Wes Johnson played well in his fourth consecutive game leading all scorers with 18 points and adding nine rebounds. In Johnson's first NCAA Tournament game he shot six-for-12 (50 percent) from the floor.
Rick Jackson pitched in with a good effort on both ends of the court. Jackson scored all his 12 points in the post and grabbed nine rebounds as the Orange easily overcame the absence of Arinze Onuaku. Freshman Dashonte Riley logged in 12 productive minutes.