With the Syracuse Orange struggling, and guard play becoming a major focus of observers, it’s understandable that people want answers. How did this happen? Why is Syracuse playing so poorly? What does this mean for the future of the program?
ESPN’s Jeff Goodman raised a completely different query after Sunday’s one-sided loss.
Tyler Ennis leaving after one year has killed Syracuse. He would be a senior right now. Most thought he would play 4 years in college.— Jeff Goodman (@GoodmanESPN) January 1, 2017
Tyler Ennis, as you’ll recall, played just one season for the Orange, but it was certainly a fun one. SU started the 2013-14 campaign at 25-0, with Ennis leading the way at point guard. While he was far from a prolific scorer or passer, necessarily, he had a good sense of the game as a freshman. He was also rather clutch, as one evening in Pittsburgh cemented forever.
Goodman’s concept has some merit. Syracuse would certainly have better guard play and better defense right now with Ennis in the lineup. But there are a few hang-ups as well. Most notably:
Ennis was never staying four years.
The five-star Ontario product was a well-hyped player coming out of high school, and he performed well enough in one year to garner national attention. In his autobiography, Jim Boeheim expressed some concerns about Ennis declaring early. But that wasn’t to say he had zero chance to leave before the end of his four-year career at SU. Even if Ennis had returned for his sophomore year, what would he have needed to prove beyond that season?
Despite Ennis’s struggles at the NBA level, he was a very capable college point guard, and one who thrived in major moments for a very good team. It’s rare you can (or should) succeed for four years in college without bailing for the pros first. It’s a stretch to say that Ennis would’ve been any different.
Still, imagine a world where Ennis did play for Syracuse these past few seasons (and this year as well)...
For starters, the 2014-15 team’s struggles to find a consistent offensive weapon beyond Rakeem Christmas would’ve been helped at least a little. Granted, that team had a self-imposed postseason ban anyway, but they might have stood a better chance to be competitive during the regular season with a better facilitator.
Last season, Michael Gbinije had to handle point guard duties, and while he did the best job he could there, his real expertise was as a shooter. Having Ennis as an option to distribute to him, Trevor Cooney and Malachi Richardson could’ve spared us the nail-biting Selection Sunday — though maybe as a higher seed, SU could’ve missed the surprise Final Four trip altogether.
This year, it’s easy to see the need for Ennis (again, assuming he stuck around this long). Defensively, the Orange are a disaster thus far, and as mentioned, guard play’s been rough. Frank Howard and John Gillon have not managed to be the distributors this team needs, and the team’s turnover numbers have risen sharply as they progressed through the meat of the non-conference slate.
Again, Ennis wasn’t staying four years, so the concept Goodman put out there is pretty silly. Still, it’s worth wondering how exactly Syracuse could’ve fixed this over the last few years, and how they’ll do so going forward. The thoughts about Ennis are fine, but they ignore the elephant in the room: the NCAA sanctions and scholarship reductions that altered the way the Orange have recruited. Roster turnover, demands on bigger classes and an influx of transfers are individual reasons why things may not be gelling for this SU team. But they’re all a product of the NCAA’s (unnecessarily) harsh penalties.
The Orange can fix all of this. It’ll just take some time. Now that they’re at the bottom, the only way to go is up.