Ennis giving Syracuse a big edge among ACC playmakers
Posted January 17, 2014
Other than Jim Boeheim’s Rubik’s cube zone defense, the one thing that has elevated Syracuse above the remainder of the ACC thus far in league play has been the production of freshman point-guard Tyler Ennis.
Any number of explanations are viable for the uneven performances by other predicted frontrunners – Duke, UNC, Notre Dame and Virginia.
Injuries, personnel attrition, league schedule imbalance, revamped chemistry and – at UNC for sure – off-court academic issues have all contributed the ups and downs.
But if there’s one given in college basketball, it’s that teams are rarely more effective than their playmakers. And on that count, the 6-foot-2 Ennis has thoroughly outplayed his league cohorts through the first two weeks of league play. Ennis arrived at Syracuse as the nation’s No. 22 overall prospect by Rivals.com – behind forwards Jabari Parker (Duke, No. 4 nationally) and forward Isaiah Hicks (UNC, No. 16) and just ahead of fellow playmaker Cat Barber of N.C. State (No. 27).
But through 17 games overall and four in the ACC – all wins – Ennis is playing as well or better than any freshman in the nation. He’s averaging 11.6 points, 5.7 assists (against 1.4 turnovers), 2.5 steals and even 3.3 rebounds while shooting 38.2 percent on 3-point attempts and 72.6 percent on free throws.
More important than his stat sheet is the fact that Ennis has made such a seamless fit as the floor leader on a team with veterans C.J. Fair, Trevor Cooney, Rakeem Christmas and Jerami Grant.
“There hasn’t been any adjustment to Tyler,” Fair told after last week’s win over UNC. “He fit in from the start of practice.”
When Boeheim made the decision in early season to start a freshman at the point, there was some second-guessing but not a lot. Last season’s starting guards Michael Carter-Williams and Brandon Triche had moved on and senior Nolan Hart has been a career reserve.
Plus, there’s the fact that Boeheim has started freshmen point-guards four times during the past 15 or so seasons. One of those, now assistant coach Gerry McNamara, was the starter on Boeheim’s 2003 NCAA title team.
You can’t project but so much based on four league outings, of course. Saturday’s game against Pitt (16-1, 4-0) will be challenging if no other reason than the fact that Panthers are used to facing the Orange zone from their days in the Big East.
And other than Monday’s 69-59 win at Boston College (5-12, 1-3) and a 72-52 win at Virginia Tech (8-8, 1-3) on Jan. 7, Ennis hasn’t been exposed to road play in the ACC.
But thus far, Ennis would get my vote for conference freshman of the year and has clearly has been the league’s most offensively effective playmaker to date.
Duke junior Quinn Cook clearly is in the group of league playmakers closest to matching Ennis’ offensive impact.
Cook is averaging 13.2 points, 5.7 assists (1.9 turnovers). But in the Blue Devils’ losses to Clemson and Notre Dame, he went 10-for-28 on field goals and was held to four assists against the Irish.
State’s Barber has struggled with his jumpshot, which was expected to be an asset upon his signing. In the Pack’s three league losses, he’s gone 6-for-28 on field goals and many of those attempts reflected poor shot selection judgment.
At Duke Saturday, Barber’s composure will be something Mark Gottfried has to watch closely and continually.
But all things considered, no team has suffered more from point-guard problems than Carolina, which is 0-3 in the conference and 10-6 entering Saturday game in Chapel Hill against Boston College.
With Marcus Paige forced to play a lot early on the wing and senior wing Leslie McDonald shooting only 35 percent since seven games, Paige has been through absolute chaos.
When freshman Nate Britt (2.7 assists, 2.1 turnovers per game) is in at the point, Paige has to keep one eye on Britt and one eye on his wing role.
When Paige is at the point and McDonald on the wing, defenses frequently double-team Paige.
The Heels should get their first win Saturday and have Clemson in the Smith Center on Jan. 26 (after a Monday trip to Virginia).
It may be only Jan. 17, but UNC is flirting with disaster and the escape route has to start with the point-guard situation.