This was going to be a very good Syracuse team no matter how its freshman point guard played. C.J. Fair would be a go-to scorer, and one of the best all-around ballers in the ACC. He was picked as the conference’s preseason player of the year. The Orange would have experience navigating the treacherous March land mines. SU Fair, Trevor Cooney, Jerami Grant and the bigs all were part of last year’s run to the Final Four. The ACC (as we would find out) was down, meaning SU could load up on conference wins and assure itself a high-seed in March. Jim Boeheim – well, he had been through about 4 million March appearances.
But Tyler Ennis has taken this Syracuse team from very good (and contender) to a legitimate National Championship possibility. Every great March team needs two options late in games. Fair being an obvious one, but Ennis developed within weeks as a play-maker and finisher extraordinaire for final minute situations. He can dish with the best, but also can score at the basket.
He has late-game genes. The stats have been plastered everywhere after his Pitt miracle. Final five minutes or OT with a one possession game? He’s nails. Ennis wants the ball, wants the decision, wants the win. He’s ice at the line. He drills the jumper. He hits deep shots. He scoops to the basket. He owns the final sequence.
If Fair’s shot isn’t hitting, Cooney has stepped up and been thrilling from beyond the arc. His marksmanship spreads the floor. Grant has taken his rebounding game to the next level (thankfully) and developed a tremendous put-back scoring knack. Rak Christmas and Baye Moussa Keita are doing enough on the interior. The bench can give the starters a bit of a breather (although not too much).
But the key is Ennis. He believes. The team believes. The coach believes. The city believes.
Before the season began it was Julius Randle, Jabari Parker, Andrew Wiggins. Put Ennis in that category. He’s one of the best freshman in the country. Heck, he’s one of the best players in the country. And he makes the Orange a title contender.