It was never in doubt.
Behind their suffocating zone defense and a big performance from Trevor Cooney, Syracuse rolled to an easy victory in their round of 64 matchup against Western Michigan on Thursday, winning 77-53.
ESPN Stats & Information shared the result after the final horn:
Trevor Cooney scores a game-high 18 Pts in Syracuse's win vs Western Michigan. He hit 4-of-8 from three; was 10-for-51 in previous 7 games.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) March 20, 2014
The Orange never trailed in this game, holding the Broncos to 34.7 percent shooting from the field while forcing 13 turnovers. From the opening tipoff, Syracuse suffocated Western Michigan in the halfcourt and never looked back.
Seth Davis of CBS Sports chimed in:
Syracuse is all over Western Michigan.— Seth Davis (@SethDavisHoops) March 20, 2014
Syracuse was so dominant early, folks from Twitter were already projecting their matchups later in the bracket halfway through the first half, such as Jason McIntyre of The Big Lead:
9 turnovers in 12 mins for Western Michigan. At the risk of looking ahead, I worry about those Kansas guards against the Syracuse zone.— Jason McIntyre (@jasonrmcintyre) March 20, 2014
By the half, any thoughts that the Broncos might be able to conjure up a comeback had dissipated, as Rivals.com pointed out:
While the Orange were stingy as always on defense, they were extremely balanced on offense, as Cooney, Tyler Ennis (16 points, six assists), Jerami Grant (16 points, five rebounds) and C.J. Fair (14 points, 11 rebounds) accounted for 66 of Syracuse's 77 points.
So much for the notion that Syracuse was fodder for an upset after losing three of five to close its season. Then again, as Jayson Stark of ESPN pointed out, the team often handles its business early on in the NCAA tournament:
Always amused by popular theory Syracuse is a perennial first-round upset suspect. Won last six NCAA openers by a combined 132 points— Jayson Stark (@jaysonst) March 20, 2014
Western Michigan's senior leaders, David Brown and Shayne Whittington, combined for just 20 points in this contest. The pair had averaged a combined 35.7 points on the year. Whittington was also ineffective on the glass, pulling down just two rebounds after averaging 9.1 boards per contest this season.
Syracuse's big performance can in part be attributed to the respect it paid Western Michigan. Jim Boeheim wasn't taking this game lightly or the team's star seniors, Brown and Whittington, as he said in a press conference before the game:
They’re very impressive. They can play anywhere in the country. They’re really good players. I don’t really look at where players play. I like at how good players are and how good the team is and Western Michigan has a team that can play with anybody in the country.
Those two guys and their whole team is good. I don’t think it’s just those two guys. Those two guys, though, I think could step in and play anyplace in the country. I think that’s the beauty of college basketball. You have guys at schools like Western Michigan that are as good as anybody that we’ve played against. Our players understand that and we understand that.
While Western Michigan's season is over, Syracuse now prepare for a tough matchup against Dayton, which upset Ohio State on Thursday, 60-59. The Flyers have now won 11 of 13, so Syracuse will need to ramp up their vaunted zone defense once again.
Of course, if Cooney once again finds his range from the perimeter, the Orange are going to be tough to beat, even if Kansas eventually comes calling. Though the Orange had their share of struggles late this season, this team still has loads of potential and is a legitimate contender.