Villanova came out on fire. James Bell hit three threes in the first four minutes and the Wildcats jumped all over a Syracuse team that looked like they hit the snooze button too many times. It was 25-7 with 10 minutes left in the half, and the Orange looked like they were going to get steam-rolled in their own building.
And then it all changed.
Villanova settled for too many quick threes as the Syracuse zone eliminated any kind of penetration, the Orange were able to get out into transition and before you could say ‘Baye Moussa Keita’, the Orange went on a 20-0 run, holding Villanova scoreless over the course of seven minutes. That surge would continue into the second half, as Syracuse would end up winning 78-62. Do the match, and over the course of the last 30 minutes of the game, Syracuse outscored Villanova 71-37.
Trevor Cooney led the way for the Orange with 21 points, but it was the play of Tyler Ennis stabilizing the Syracuse attack that made the difference. He had 20 points, slicing up the Villanova defense during the first half come back and setting the table for his teammates in the second half.
Ennis added two assists and didn’t turn the ball over. On the season, Ennis has just 13 turnovers despite playing more than 32 minutes per game as the primary ball-handler. He’s also a freshman, which makes his performance just that much more impressive. Syracuse is the No. 2 team in the country and looks every bit a national title contender. I think we can all agree that they wouldn’t be in this position without Ennis. Not only does he belong in the same conversation with the likes of Julius Randle, Joel Embiid and Jabari Parker when talking about the nation’s top five freshman, other than Marcus Smart, I’m not sure that there is a point guard in the country that is unquestionably better than Ennis. Aaron Craft? Maybe. Jahii Carson and Shabazz Napier? There’s an argument to be made.
At worst, Ennis is probably a top five point guard nationally. Think about that.
Ennis is a different breed of point guard. He’s not overwhelmingly explosive. He’s not lightening quick or 6-foot-5. He’s not a pure scorer or a pure passer. He’s just a smart player that understands change-of-pace and knows when he needs to score and when he needs the Orange to run offense.
He’s the perfect fit for Syracuse. He’s their most valuable player, the biggest reason the Orange look like the best team in the ACC.
He proved it again on Saturday.
Wednesday the NCAA made its ruling on two appeals of sanctions made by Syracuse University, with the news being mixed for the men’s basketball program.
On the positive side the NCAA ruled that Syracuse will be docked two scholarships per season for the next four years, as opposed to the original ruling of three. As a result Jim Boeheim’s program only has to account for the loss of eight total scholarships, meaning that they’ll have 11 to fill in each of the next four seasons as opposed to ten.
One scholarship may not seem like a big deal, but in a sport where you only get 13 (when not dealing with sanctions) getting that grant-in-aid back really helps from a recruiting standpoint.
As for the negatives, they both concern Boeheim. Not only has there yet to be a ruling on Boeheim’s appeal of his nine-game suspension that goes into effect when ACC play begins in January (that appeal is being heard separately), but the appeal to reinstate the wins that were vacated as part of the sanctions was denied. As a result Boeheim officially has 868 wins instead of 969 (not counting today’s game against Charlotte).
And with Mike Hopkins set to take over as head coach in 2018, the denial means that college basketball will have to wait quite some time before anyone threatens to join Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski in the 1,000 wins club.
While not having the wins officially reinstated does hurt, getting a scholarship back for each of the next four seasons is a bigger deal when it comes to the long-term health of the Syracuse program. Also of great importance will be the ruling regarding Boeheim’s suspension, as a suspended coach is not allowed to have any contact with his players or coaching staff while serving the penalty.
And with the original ruling due to take up half of Syracuse’s league slate, not having Boeheim (or the chance to speak with him) is a big deal when it comes to this current team.
St. John’s forward Kassoum Yakwe has been cleared by the NCAA to play this season and will be eligible immediately, the school announced on Wednesday.
Yakwe is a 6-foot-8 forward that reclassified and enrolled at St. John’s this fall. He attended the same high school as Kansas forward Cheick Diallo, who was also cleared by the NCAA to play today.
St. John’s played in the Maui Invitational this week, and Yakwe did not take part. His first game with the Johnnies will be on Dec. 2nd against Fordham if the program plans to play his this season.
The question that must be asked, however, is whether or not he will suit up or simply redshirt. The Johnnies are in the midst of a serious rebuild and will be without their other elite recruit this season, Marcus Lovett. Lovett was ruled a partial qualifier. Would it make sense to burn a year of eligibility on what make amount to a wasted season, or will head coach Chris Mullin opt to save that year for down the road?