When the ACC Player of the Year is named, there is a chance that player could play for Syracuse, the current king of the hill in the league. That may not be a surprise, considering the preseason POY came from the Orange.
What would be surprising, however, is exactly which player is given the award.
C.J. Fair got the honors in the preseason, but he is no longer the only candidate on his team.
Fair is getting competition from Tyler Ennis, the freshman sensation who is arguably outplaying all of the newly matriculated players in the country not named Embiid.
Since Jabari Parker has come back to earth, Ennis is likely the favorite to be the ACC's Rookie of the Year. But is he a legit conference Player of the Year contender as well? One could certainly make the case.
Make no mistake, a freshman being named Player of the Year in the ACC would be an unprecedented achievement. No diaper dandy has ever won the award. But in a down year for the conference, and with Ennis stealing the show at every opportunity, he should definitely be in the conversation.
To start, Ennis is the most important player on the best team in the conference. He has piloted the Orange plane, overcoming some occasional turbulence, to a No. 2 national ranking, an 18-0 overall record and an unmatched 5-0 start in league play. Fair is Syracuse's best player, but Ennis has meant as much or more to the overall success of the Orange.
For an example, look no further than Syracuse's win over Pittsburgh. It was a battle of two (formerly) unbeatens in ACC play, and it determined the early edge in the race for the conference title. Ennis scored a team-high 16 points and it was he, not Fair, who got the most important buckets down the stretch. Ennis tallied six of the last eight Syracuse points, including a layup to give his team a lead with under two minutes to go and a second layup to extend the lead.
Ennis also had four points in the last two minutes against Miami, a game Syracuse went on to win 49-44. And when the Orange had their backs against the wall at Boston College, Ennis led his team on a 16-1 run to pull away from the Eagles. Every time the Orange have been tested, there was Ennis making the plays that needed to be made to get the W.
No "best player" type of argument would be complete without statistical analysis, and the numbers game just furthers Ennis' case.
Ennis averages a respectable 11.9 points, 3.2 rebounds and 5.5 assists. His 2.7 steals a game are tops in the conference and eighth nationally. His 99 assists are second in the conference. He's fourth in the country in assist-to-turnover ratio at 4.13. He's also working with .431/.400/.732 shooting splits from the field, the three-point line and the free-throw line respectively. This is all as a freshman starting point guard playing 33.6 minutes a night.
But to truly see just how much Ennis is tearing up the ACC, some further digging is required. Sports-reference.com keeps track of any advanced stat you can imagine, and even the Moneyball metrics for Ennis are impressive.
Let's start with some offensive numbers. With a 23.6 rating, Ennis is eighth in the conference in player efficiency rating. His assist percentage, an estimate of the percentage of field goals a player assisted on while he's on the floor, is 31.6. That paces the ACC. His offensive rating, an estimate of points produced per 100 possessions, is 126.1, sixth in the conference. He's also fifth in offensive win shares, an estimate of wins produced based on a player's offense, at 2.0.
But Ennis doesn't just play offense. He gets it done on the defensive end, too. His steal percentage? A league-best 5.1. Defensive win shares? Third in the conference at 1.4. Ennis also ranks third in the ACC with 3.4 win shares overall and .226 win shares per 40 minutes.
If the season ended today, Ennis probably would not be named the conference POY. There are a lot of hoops left to be played, and players like Fair, Parker, Rodney Hood, Lamar Patterson, Pat Connaughton and K.J. McDaniels all can make as compelling a case as Ennis.
But if Ennis keeps up his unflappable play and leads the Orange to an ACC championship, or at least the No. 1 seed in the ACC tournament, his case may be too hard to ignore, regardless of his class standing.
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