Have to figure this was the biggest game to date of young Tyler Ennis' life. A freshman guiding an undefeated Syracuse team, on national TV, and doing it against his big brother (Dylan). Need anything more on the line? Sure, Syracuse was up against, arguably, the best team it had been matched with so far this season, the surprisingly undefeated Villanova Wildcats.
Now they're the formerly undefeated Wildcats. Because Ennis was brilliant. He had 20 points, zero turnovers and was the maestro Syracuse needed in coming back from a big deficit at home -- then stamping a no-doubt-about-it win on Syracuse's former Big East foes. Syracuse won 78-62 Saturday afternoon at the Carrier Dome and did it after falling behind in the first half to the tune of 23-7.
From losing by 18 to winning by 16. Most impressive. Ennis was a huge part of it the way he's been a huge part of just about everything Syracuse has done through eight weeks of college basketball. We take for granted the national brands in this sport and the way they (seemingly) keep up with the Joneses, but it's not always like that.
And Syracuse, while expected to be an NCAA tournament team, wasn't thought to be this viable. Calling the Orange a national title contender two months ago was lofty, mostly because of the questions in the backcourt. Ennis has given us plenty to know and wow over in the time since. He's not the best player on the team (yet). That honor is still clearly C.J. Fair's; the senior forward put up 17 points Saturday, basically his average, in helping keep Jim Boeheim's team flawless in the standings.
But Ennis is proving to be one of the most valuable players in the country. I think he's more valuable than Fair, and I'm not qualifying that valuable tag with the "freshman" caveat. Boeheim's had his share of really nice point guards over the years; just last season he had a future lottery pick in Michael Carter-Williams. Ennis, while not the strongest, fastest, tallest or most athletic player on Syracuse's roster, let alone his league or greater college basketball, certainly is one of the craftiest players, currently. His game has a quirk to it that indicates he's a step ahead of most. I love watching those kind of players. There's a throwback element to them that will never get old. It's like he's deducing a sequence before he makes his first and second step or move.
Tyler, the Creator.
Because of Ennis' ability to step in and replace Carter-Williams, Syracuse will enter 2014 without a loss and in the thick of the conversation for national title contenders. And the young man must be an absolute godsend for Syracuse fans who enjoyed Carter-Williams ... despite his penchant for a few too many long jumpers. And Scoop Jardine before him, a talented but enigmatic player who was never the type of point guard suited for the Orange's setup. (Frankly, Jardine drove SU fans mad for most of his career.)
Now there's Ennis doing what few do. He's a freshman thriving in Boehiem's system. He doesn't turn it over, seldom takes ill-advised shots, and he seems to know what a good shot is -- and when to defer. The turnover factor really is the most important. He is efficiency in the best form you could ask for from an 18-year-old playing for a top-five team.
To this point, through 12 games, he's dished 61 assists and committed just 13 turnovers. Superb! He's more than a surprise -- he's turning into an announcement for the Orange. The program's first campaign as a rent-paying ACC member begins in a week, and it's hard to argue against it as a favorite as we turn to the second half of the season.