Familiar rivals No. 22 Pittsburgh and No. 2 Syracuse met on Saturday afternoon, but under a new banner with first place in the ACC on the line. And given the Panthers’ success against Syracuse under Jamie Dixon, they had a good understanding of what it took to execute properly against Jim Boeheim’s 2-3 zone defense.
Pittsburgh made good use of the area in the middle of the zone, hitting the foul line area on many occasions and they attacked the short corner as well. The Panthers may have left a few points on the board in the first half in the form of missed attempts at the rim, but it was clear that they had the ability to leave the Carrier Dome with what would have been a big victory.
But even with Lamar Patterson heating up from beyond the arc in the second half and Pittsburgh taking a 52-49 with 4:41 remaining, the Panthers were unable to close. The reason why: Syracuse freshman point guard Tyler Ennis, who by this point in the season should be on any list discussing national Player of the Year candidates.
Never rushed, the smooth floor general made the key plays late in Syracuse’s 59-54 win, moving the Orange to 18-0 on the season and 5-0 in ACC play. Ennis, who finished the game with 16 points and three assists, scored six points to spearhead a game-ending 10-2 run. He may not have reached his average in assists (5.6 apg) on Saturday afternoon, but in a game that required sound decision-making in the half court Ennis got the job done.
Syracuse, who can be lethal in the open floor when given the opportunity to run, scored just three fast-break points against a Pittsburgh team well-schooled in making sure the Orange don’t get too many of those chances. But Syracuse shot 51.2% from the field (65.4% on two-point shots) and scored 32 of their 59 points in the paint, with forwards Rakeem Christmas (ten points, four rebounds), C.J. Fair (13 points, six rebounds) and Jerami Grant (12 points, four rebounds) all scoring in double figures.
During the offseason Ennis was the focus of many projections for Syracuse; with essentially no other option at the position he was seen as the difference between a good team and one that could potentially win a national title. On Saturday afternoon, the freshman once again showed why he’s one of the nation’s best players.
The 6-foot-3 guard averaged 10.3 points per game, while shooting 42 percent from three, as a freshman. He, along with Malcolm Hill and Michael Thorne Jr., is one of three returning players who averaged double figures last season.
This could prove to be a make-or-break year for John Groce, who enters his fifth season at the helm. He guided the Illini to an NCAA Tournament in his first season, but hasn’t been back since.
The key for the Illini is health. Abrams gives them experience and leadership, but it won’t be a surprise if there’s some rust in his game after spending the past two seasons on the sideline. Having a healthy Coleman-Lands will help stabilize the backcourt, while Hill, an all-conference caliber forward, and Thorne anchor the frontcourt.
Like Alkins, Jones was a sought-after scorer. The 6-foot-4 two-guard was rated No. 69 overall in the Class of 2016 by Rivals. He picked Indiana over offers from Cal, Cincinnati, Georgetown and more than a dozen other high-major programs.
Jeter, the 6-foot-10, played in a reserve role as a freshman, averaging 1.9 points and 1.9 rebounds per game last season. He will be part of a loaded frontline that includes heralded freshmen Harry Giles and Marques Bolden, as well as redshirt senior Amile Jefferson, who returns to the lineup following a foot injury.
The greatest player in Auburn program history will honored with a statue outside of the team’s home arena.
The university announced that Charles Barkley, the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famer, will be the fourth athlete to be given a statue, joining Heisman Trophy winners Bo Jackson, Pat Sullivan and Cam Newton.
“It just means a great deal to me,” Barkley said in a statement. “Being a kid from Alabama, going to Auburn. I think everybody knows what Auburn means to me. It’s going to be pretty cool.”
Barkley, currently working as an analyst for TNT, was the SEC Player of the Year in 1984, as well as a second team All-American. He averaged 14.1 points and 9.6 rebounds per game in 84 appearances for the Tigers.