The No. 2 Syracuse Orange have exceeded early expectations on the way to a 10-0 start to the season.
With the Orange ranked No. 7 in the USA Today Coaches Poll to start the season, having an unblemished record is not necessarily noteworthy. The significance is how they got there.
Losing Michael Carter-Williams, James Southerland and Brandon Triche would be enough to set any team back, but the Orange have come roaring out of the gate with help from a variety of players.
As expected, and for the second consecutive year, senior forward C.J. Fair leads the team in scoring with 18.1 per game. Questionable was who else would help with the scoring load.
Enter Jerami Grant, whose 13.2 points per game rank third on the team. Grant, who comes off the bench, leads the team with six rebounds per game and is a lightning rod for the offense whenever he steps on the court, a la Dion Waiters.
Trevor Cooney, second on the team in scoring with 13.8 points per game, has found his outside shot and averages over three three-point shots per game, and he adds 2.5 steals per game to balance his court presence.
Perhaps most significant is the contribution of freshman Tyler Ennis, who is filling in the shoes of Carter-Williams. Ennis was expected to go through some growing pains but has played like a seasoned veteran. As the team’s only true point guard, Ennis has been stellar and has, thus far, vanquished any agony over the departure of Carter-Williams.
Syracuse looks to be in midseason form, with just a few issues that will have to be worked out as the season progresses. With only three games left before the start of the ACC schedule, one of which is against No. 8 Villanova, the Orange have much to be proud of at this point in the season.
Here’s a look at the most impressive aspects of the Syracuse start.
Last season, Trevor Cooney was a redshirt freshman who was hyped as the next coming of Gerry McNamara, at least as far as marksmanship goes.
With limited playing time, Cooney found it difficult to find a rhythm. He showed signs that made him worthy of the hype, but those moments were few and far between. Cooney struggled with consistency and shot a poor .267 percentage from beyond the arc.
This season, after working on his shooting and conditioning, Cooney has seen increased minutes and a miraculous turnaround in his in-game ability.
Ten games into the season, Cooney’s three-point-shooting percentage is a fantastic .463. He’s tripled his playing time this season and has become exactly the player the Orange needed to fill the void of the departed James Southerland.
In its first nine games, Syracuse did a great job at capitalizing off turnovers.
The Orange outperformed every one of their opponents in points off turnovers until the St. John’s game this past Sunday, when the Orange lost that battle 12-8.
Regardless, through 10 games, the Orange have outscored their opponents 203-90 in points off turnovers.
This means that on average, the Orange’s defense is generating 20.3 points per game to this point, which is very impressive.
Freshman phenom Tyler Ennis was supposed to be a great point guard, but his poise and maturity have been off the charts.
As the engine that makes the Orange run, Ennis has an astounding 5-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio.
Last season, Michael Carter-Williams was a great passer, but his sloppiness with the ball led to him giving up almost three times as many turnovers per game. Carter-Williams averaged 2.8 turnovers per game, while Ennis averages just 1.1.
Carter-Williams’ assist-to-turnover ratio was half of Ennis’, coming in at 2.6-to-1.
Ennis doesn’t have the length or defensive ability of Carter-Williams, but his talent is improving with each passing game—emphasis on “passing.”
Last season, the Orange shot 67.5 percent from the free-throw line. Free throws were a problem in the beginning of the season, but the Orange steadily improved, making them less of a concern.
Already this season, the Orange are shooting 68.5 percent from the charity stripe, but more importantly, they are getting better as the games go on.
This season, in the last five minutes of their games, the Orange have hit 42 of their 58 attempts from the stripe, which is 72.4 percent.
With games being called much tighter this season, free throws have become even more important than in the past. Syracuse’s effort in this area is a good sign.
For the fifth consecutive season, the Orange have started the season with 10 consecutive victories.
Syracuse often gets flack for its early-season schedule, but in recent years, this has not been a fair criticism. Every team has a few cupcake games in the early season, but this season, which includes a sweep of the Maui Invitational, the Orange have already defeated No. 12 Baylor, Indiana, California and Minnesota and have No. 8 Villanova coming up.
In early parts of the last five seasons, the Orange have taken out such ranked opponents as San Diego State, Florida (twice), Michigan State, California and North Carolina.
The early work has certainly paid off, with Syracuse coming off back-to-back trips to the Elite Eight, including last year’s Final Four run.
Syracuse has done a great job in establishing one of the most stable and consistent programs in the country, and with the crop of recruits coming in, Orange fans should expect a lot more of the same in the years to come.