Aside from the 2-3 zone, nothing has been synonymous with the Syracuse Orange in recent seasons quite like rock-solid point guard play.
At the heart of last year's team -- a team that started the season 25-0 -- was point guard Tyler Ennis, who declared for the 2014 NBA Draft shortly after season's end. The year prior, when Syracuse reached the Final Four, the Orange were led by Michael Carter-Williams at point guard.
Ennis and Carter-Williams both earned Second-Team All-Conference honors (Ennis in the ACC, MCW in the Big East), and both were primary factors in their respective team's successes. The 2013-14 Orange never could have won 25 straight games without Ennis, and the 2012-13 Orange wouldn't have sniffed the Final Four without Carter-Williams.
This season's version of the Orange have lower-than-usual expectations (Syracuse is ranked just 23rd in the AP Top 25 and 24th in the USA Today Coaches Poll), something that is at least partially because of the lower-than-usual expectations at the point guard position. This team's point guard, freshman Kaleb Joseph, comes in as a four-star recruit, whereas Ennis and Carter-Williams were both five-star recruits.
Naturally, the question lingers: Can Joseph have an Ennis-like impact or a Carter-Williams-like impact for this year's team?
A few days ago, I didn't think so. Though I wrote last week that I felt Joseph was the team's X-factor, I still didn't think he was capable of being Syracuse's alpha-dog.
But after watching him in the season-opening win in an exhibition against the Carleton Ravens, I'm not so sure that I haven't underestimated Joseph.
It was just one game -- I get that. But, damn, he looked REALLY good. In only 26 minutes, Joseph made seven of his nine shots and scored a team-high 19 points. Also promising: he had four assists and just one turnover.
Even in his first collegiate game, Joseph seemed in control of the offense at all times when he was on the court. He was able to push the tempo and get the Orange a number of opportunities in transition, something that, for better or for worse, we didn't see much of last year with Ennis. And it was Joseph who scored six points in the final two minutes of the first half, pulling the Orange to within single digits of the Ravens and swinging the momentum in Syracuse's favor.
It's become well-known that Joseph is 1) a gym rat and 2) insanely competitive. Both of those things will certainly bode well for the point guard and they guarantee that, unlike with Chris McCullough, we don't have to worry about Joseph's on-court intensity or him not playing hard enough.
We'll get a better feel for Joseph as Syracuse plays more and more of its games, but as of right now, I'm feeling pretty optimisitc. Of course, it's far too soon to put him in the same breath as Ennis and Carter-Williams, but I think the kid has a chance to be pretty special.
Now: what do you think?