Ennis: Freshman of the Year? Making the Case

The Year of Freshmen Freshman has delivered us great joy in particular as Syracuse fans, thanks to Mr. Ennis. But there are a lot of other great frosh out there this college basketball season. Which one is particularly deserving as Freshman of the Year?

So, in honor of yesterday's buzzer-beater against Pitt with 4.4 seconds left to hit it, I'm doing 4 Tiers of 4 freshmen each. To start things off, here's the fourth (the lowest) tier.

Tier 4
16. Rysheed Jordan, PG for St. John's
15. Josh Hart, SG for Villanova
14. James Young, SF for Kentucky
13. Zach LaVine, PG for UCLA

These are unheralded freshman you may have heard of but either are overshadowed by other players on their team (LaVine, Young), struggling on their team (Jordan) or are just plain ignored (Jason Hart was rated ESPN #92 coming out of HS). LaVine slides under the radar a lot because of Kyle Anderson who leads the Bruins in scoring, rebounding, and assists. But LaVine does lead the Bruins with 3-pointers made with 38, shooting 43%. Young is overlooked on a team full of freshmen. Part of the reason Young is so successful is because Kentucky brutally attacks the boards and Julius Randle (more on him later) draws a lot of attention inside. I seem to remember us recruiting Rysheed Jordan, but considering we got Ennis, well, we got the better deal, I'd say. His minutes fluctuate with his hot-and-cold shooting. Jason Hart started the season strong but has tapered off as of late. He does shoot 51% from the floor, probably because Nova has a lot of shooters to account for and Hart's 6'5'', making him tough to defend if he gets time to set his feet.

Tier 3
12. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, PF for Arizona
11. Isaiah Taylor, PG for Texas
10. Wayne Selden, SG for Kansas
9. Jordan Mickey, PF for LSU

I feel that these guys are just a step up from the fourth tier. Mickey went toe-to-toe with Randle when LSU squared off against the Wildcats, and is shooting 56% for the year. Interestingly, Mickey wasn't even the highest ranked freshman on the roster, Javell Martin was. Isaiah Taylor reminds me in a lot of ways of Ennis. Not really super-athletic, but he's been instrumental in leading his team to the top of the conference. Selden is one of the better defenders out there up top. Remember Brady Heslip from Baylor? He hit a couple crazy 3s over the Cuse zone in the Maui Tournament final. Selden let him hit one at the start of their first game, and Heslip only scored 4 the rest of the way. Selden gave him no opportunities anywhere for open looks. He is overlooked because of Wiggins and Embiid's stardom, but he's critical to the Jayhawks success. Hollis-Jefferson suddenly becomes much more important with Ashley out for the year. Some have said he's even more skilled than Gordon. At the very least, he's a better free throw shooter.

Tier 2
8. Marcus Foster, SF for KSU
7. Noah Vonleh, PF for IU
6. Andrew Wiggins, SF for Kansas
5. Julius Randle, PF for Kentucky

Cue the outrage from rival fanbases...

"What poppycock! Malarkey! Balderdash! Wiggins and Randle not in the top tier?!? Blasphemy!"

I had a pretty clear Top 8 in my opinion, but cutting it down to four was difficult. Foster and Vonleh have been amazing low-post operators. Wiggins needs to develop a shooting touch. He's thisclose to the top line. As great as he is defensively, he's not a complete player quite yet. But he'll be drafted in the Top 3 next NBA Draft anyways. Randle has shown signs of inconsistency. It seemed he would dominate every game after watching his play against Michigan State. All the scouts were salivating over him then, but they've backed off just a bit.

Tier 1
4. Joel Embiid, C for Kansas

Embiid wasn't projected to be near as spectacular as he's been for the Jayhawks this year. As raw as he is, he's tough to stop in the low-post. Unfortunately with injuries, he probably won't be in the running for FOTY. Which only leaves 3...

3. Aaron Gordon, PF for Arizona

Seriously, how are people overlooking Arizona right now? Even with Ashley out this team can still make waves in the tournament. Gordon has been great on both ends for the Wildcats, leading all freshmen in defensive win shares. The one knock people have on him which I've mentioned already is his free throw shooting. You can't go under 50% from the line and expect teams to not be able to take advantage. It hasn't hurt Zona yet... but in the Tournament that difference could be significant.

2. Jabari Parker

The best scorer in college basketball right now behind Doug McDermott, Parker is so versatile when not playing against a Syracuse zone that he's nearly unstoppable. As good of a passer as he is, however, his weakness is his tunnel vision. I watched that Syracuse-Duke game twice and noticed how occasionally Parker would try to go right at the rim, frequently over some Orange defender, and get nothing when there was an open shooter or an easy dumpoff for a basket. As polished as his game is, he's an average defender, despite his athleticism.

1. Tyler Ennis

Okay, maybe I'm biased just a bit being a Cuse fan. But we're not judging Ennis vs. Parker on NBA talent, just this year and what they've done. Look at the predictions at the beginning of the season. No one had Cuse doing much, losing their starting backcourt and Southie. But Ennis has been so poised, so confident. His assist-to-turnover ratio is obscene for a freshman (right around 4-to-1). And as good as Parker has been, he hasn't done what Ennis has in the last two minutes of the game. Keep in mind Duke is 2-3 in games decided by 6 points or less. Those two wins are against Virginia with a questionable call arguably giving Duke the game at home and a 1 point win over Vermont. VERMONT. Meanwhile, Syracuse is 7-0 in the same category. I'm not saying Ennis has the star-power of Wiggins or Parker. He may not be a great NBA player like some of the other freshman listed here will almost certainly be. But Ennis has the consistent quality of play belonging to a 5th-year senior, not a freshman. He's got a buzzer-beater on his resume now. He may not be the flashiest but he gets the job done for the Orange.

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