2022-23 is Syracuse’s 10th season playing in the ACC, which makes this a perfect time to do an unequivocal ranking of the Orange’s most enjoyable players to watch over that time span. This is a comprehensive list and not wrong (at least I’d like to think), but other answers will be tolerated.
Since the move from the Big East, Syracuse has had some fun years, some not-fun years, and just some very weird years. But, three players have emerged over this time that bring energy, excitement, and have had immediate success when playing in the Dome for Jim Boeheim. So, let’s get into it.
Judah Mintz (2022-23)
Yes, this could be seen as recency bias, but Syracuse has not had an athlete as good as Mintz playing point guard since arguably before it joined the ACC, which is a huge boost to Mintz’s case. He’s had down moments, including his late-game gaffes against Miami and North Carolina, plus his lack of outside shooting, but the highs are so high.
From scoring at least 16 points in each of his first five college games, recording his first double-double (16 points and 10 assists) against Georgetown, to showing his newfound basketball maturity over the past few weeks, it’s been a pleasure to watch Mintz. When he puts his head down and wants to get to the basket, it is a sight to see, not to mention his incredible finishing ability at the rim with either hand through contact.
Plus, his mid-range game is superior to a lot of other 19-year-olds, which makes him even harder to defend. Speaking of defense, he averages a couple of steals per game, which typically turn into transition opportunities, and he’s got the bounce to jam as well (even though he was denied by the rim twice against FSU).
He’s averaging almost four and a half assists per game, but also nearly two and a half turnovers. To take the next step he’s gotta bring that second number down, and continue his strong point guard play, even though he has a scoring focus. Orange fans would be lucky to watch him again next season.
Tyler Ennis (2013-14)
It was one year, but it sure was a magical season (at least for the most part). Ennis started all 34 games as a freshman in the Orange’s inaugural season in the ACC where SU got out to its best start in school history, 25-0, before dropping key games late and getting upset in the Round of 32 against Dayton.
But, that doesn’t take away from the incredible moments Ennis provided throughout the season. From winning the Maui Invitational in November, including 28 points in the semifinals against California, and, of course, the Pitt buzzer-beater, Ennis had multiple fist-bump moments for Orange fans.
But, the main thing he was for Syracuse was consistent. 13 points per game, five and a half assists per game, and over a couple of steals per contest as well. The orange offense was always in control, whether Ennis was setting up a Trevor Cooney three, running a pick and roll with Rakeem Christmas, or letting one of his wings (CJ Fair or Jerami Grant) go to work, but was the ultimate signal caller, and a joy to watch in his one season.
He had to leave for the NBA, and his stock was going to be higher, but it could be argued his earlier-than-expected departure caused some big problems for the Orange in the following years when they didn’t have a point guard again until Frank Howard was ready for the starting role.
Tyus Battle (2016-2019)
There’s been nobody who’s captivated the Orange with a combination of scoring, defense, and leadership like Battle. Not many remember it but Battle was originally committed to Michigan before SU flipped him, and boy are Syracuse fans happy about that. From leading one of the most improbable and enjoyable Sweet 16 runs in program history that included an upset of Michigan State in what was basically a home game for the Spartans, to multiple upsets of Duke, he did everything.
His freshman year (2016-17) was one of Syracuse’s weirdest, when it was a transition from the early ACC years to the more recent ones, with multiple grad students, Tyler Lydon who just wanted to go to the NBA, and a bunch of other role players, Battle still found a role to start 25 out of 34 games and average over 11 points a game.
But, his sophomore year was the season that everyone remembers. The Orange had six players, essentially. Frank Howard and Tyus Battle played nearly every minute at the top of the zone (imagine 6’5 and 6′ 6 coming out at you every play), part of the reason Syracuse finished FIFTH in kenpom’s defensive efficiency that year. Battle averaged a staggering 39 minutes per game as a sophomore, led the Orange averaging over 19 points a game, and was the entire offense because no one else could create their own shot.
He was not the best creator for others, averaging only a couple of assists per game, but his pull-up game, despite the hitch in his release, was so fun to watch, and that snarl against Michigan State will be remembered forever.
His senior year the Orange were a better overall team, part of the reason his scoring average dropped down to 17 points a game, but his assists went up to two and a half, and his shooting percentage went up three percentage points.
But, forget the numbers, Battle is on this list because of how clutch he was. Time and time again he came up big in the big moments, and when the Orange needed a bucket, he was always there. Syracuse has not had a lot of players in recent memory who if you needed a bucket, no matter who the defender was, could score. Battle was that guy, and his three years with SU should be remembered fondly every time he’s back at the Dome (or away from it like he was in Brooklyn in November), he should be given a hearty ovation and cheered loudly.