It's not 2005 all over again. This time Syracuse took care of business over the Catamounts as opposed to '05 when as a four-seed they were upset by the 13th seed Vermont. This is the type of victory you'd expect from a one-seed but not necessarily a Syracuse team. But this Syracuse squad is different. They rarely play down to their opponent. Actually, this game was very reflective of how they played all season long. They had a balanced scoring attack by sharing the ball, scored well in transition, struggled a bit in the half court set, but stepped it up on defense when they needed to. The game was never really in doubt as Syracuse rolled, 79-56.
Syracuse jumped all over Vermont to open up a 35-10 lead. They got off to such a hot start that Boeheim was able to insert DaShonte Riley into the lineup just six and a half minutes into the game. As long as Arinze Onuaku is out, Riley will be the one who will be picking up the most minutes. Riley played just 13 minutes in Big East play but had 12 last night. He didn't play great but he also didn't do anything extremely stupid. He's there to be a big body in the middle and be a presence on the glass. He had 2 offensive rebounds, 2 assists and 1 block. He looked a little more comfortable than he has in the past but he still has the tendency to jump at any shot fake. Can someone please tell this kid he's 7 feet tall? Wait until the offender jumps and then go to block the shot.
After exploding to a big lead, Vermont came clawing back. Interestingly enough, they did so by transitioning to a zone defense. If you'll remember, Louisville also ran zone and it killed the Orange. You would think a team that practices against a zone all year long would be good at breaking down the defense but they could not figure it out. Vermont ended the half on a 15-2 run to climb within 12 points.
Syracuse erased all doubts of the outcome of this game in the first four minutes of the second half. Andy Rautins and Brandon Triche both hit a pair of threes and Jackson scored on a layup and Syracuse's lead was up to 19. Boeheim must've told them how to attack the zone. They got three-pointers in transition before the zone was set and by moving the ball inside and out. The Catamounts transitioned out of the zone five minutes into the second half.
All year I thought Boeheim should try and get more players into blowout games. All year he stuck with his same seven players (with very few exceptions). But tonight everyone played. He worked 11 players into the lineup. The most interesting lineup was when Mookie Jones subbed in for Brandon Triche. On the court was Jones, Wesley Johnson, Kris Joseph, Rick Jackson, and Rautins. Rautins, aside from being the only player without a "J" last name was also the shortest player on the court at 6'4. Now that has to be intimidating to outside shooters. But it only lasted a minute as then Boeheim brought in the rest of the bench to see a little face time in the NCAA Tournament.
This win was a relief. They played the way they have all year and that's about all you can expect. People will complain about their 16 turnovers but they've done that all year long. Rautins had four - like he usually does but countered that with 6 assists, 8 rebounds and hitting 3 of 7 three-pointers. Rick Jackson filled the middle, hitting 6 of 9 shots for 12 points and he also had 8 rebounds and 3 blocks. Scoop came off the bench and had 14. And maybe most importantly, Wes Johnson is looking better. He looked good against Georgetown and this game just confirms that his hand seems to be 100 percent. Johnson hit 6 of 12 shots and finished with a game-high 18 points.Syracuse now has a quick turnaround. They face Gonzaga at 12:10pm. Gonzaga is going to be tough. They're a great three-point shooting team and have decent size in the post.
-If you're wondering about the Battle of the Joseph's - I guess you can say Kris Joseph won. Kris hit 2 of 3 shots (including a dunk he says was on his brother) and had 8 rebounds, 6 assists and 3 steals. Maurice Joseph was just 2 of 13 for 7 points.