There were a lot to like about the Orange's dominant victory, but a few things stood out:
1) Syracuse's early energy against Montana
The rumblings were there: "Look out for Montana over Syracuse because the Orange are traveling across the country;" or "...SU is mentally weak and could have an early-round lapse;" or "...CBS' Seth Davis is predicting it!"
Kudos to the Orange. Right away, the strategy was to pound the under-sized Grizzlies by using C.J. Fair, who tallied nine of Syracuse's first 18 points, including its first six.
From there, the game plan was, shockingly, to use a half-court offense to force Montana to guard Syracuse's athletes and suffocate them with the 2-3 zone. This allowed everything to open up and it was over less than 10 minutes into the game.
2) On offense, the ball is moving through Fair
To piggyback on the first topic, it is nice to see that Jim Boeheim and company have evolved the half-court offense and the ball now moves through Fair.
We can all agree that good things usually happen when Fair touches the ball on offense, and recently No. 5 is getting more and more touches.
This has helped SU become better against zone defenses and has opened up better shots for James Southerland and Brandon Triche.
Not only that, the Orange are more aware on the offensive boards when Fair touches the ball. (At least, that's what I am seeing.)
Hopefully, this continues on Saturday.
3) Brandon Triche's look
Was I the only one that noticed that Triche was on a mission Thursday night? The senior tallied a game-high 20 points on 8-for-10 shooting, but more importantly began the game as a defensive beast tallying four steals in the first half.
Even when the Orange were up by a bjillion points in the second half he kept pressing and playing extremely hard.
This was the early-tournament confidence booster that Triche needed to have, and he got it. That was nice to see.
4) Big men are stepping up intensity
It doesn't matter if Baye Moussa Kieta is playing harder or Rakeem Christmas, who took over the duty Thursday scoring nine points on 4-of-6 shooting, collected five rebounds and blocked three shots, but if Syracuse big men just hustle this team is sooooooo much better on offense and defense.
Sure, we never know which big guy is going to show up -- in the Big East Tournament it was Keita, while on Thursday it was Christmas -- but at this point it doesn't matter. If just one guy shows up and plays hard, SU has a solid chance to beat anyone.
5) Syracuse's "third"-round opponent -- Cal
I am not overlooking the Bears at all. Cal played an outstanding game against the higher-seeded UNLV Runnin' Rebels, as it used a zone defense to frustrate the Rebs' shooters and big guys.
The Bears' star point guard, Allen Cobbe, who tallied 19 points, nine rebounds, four assists and two steals, was impressive.
Pair Cobbe with backcourt-mate Justin Cobbs, who tallied 13 points on 3-for-3 shooting from behind the 3-point line, and Cal has a guard combo that could give Michael Carter-Williams and Triche some fits.
And, it would be tough not to mention, the Bears' big men, including 6-foot-9 forward Daivd Kravish, who collected nine rebounds and three blocks and did a swell job on UNLV's Anthony Bennett and Mike Moser.
Jim Boeheim: "We've seen a lot of tape on them (Cal)... They're a good team, they really are... They beat a real good UNLV team last night."— Jared E. Smith (@JaredSmithCNY) March 22, 2013
But what stood out the most about Cal is they played as good as a game as they could have against UNLV, however, managed to squeak out the win in a near home-court situation.
The Bears do not shoot the 3-pointer well, 30-percent as a team overall, and made just over four 3-pointers per game during league play, a total that was dead-last in the Pac-12.
Both Cobbe and Cobbs shoot less than 35-percent from behind the 3-point arc, Cobbe shoots the most 3-balls at a clip of five per game, and were an average rebounding team in the Pac-12 conference (rebound margin of plus-0.2).
Overall, this is a game Syracuse SHOULD win, and after Thursday night's/Friday morning's victory over Montana the Orange a primed for the Round of 32 showdown.
Jim Boeheim: "We just really played well (last night) and that puts us in really good position against Cal."— Jared E. Smith (@JaredSmithCNY) March 22, 2013