Syracuse's zone forces Jabari Parker into tough decisions

Rich Barnes

You don't want to make too much out of an NBA prospect's performance against Syracuse's unique zone, but Jabari Parker's play on Saturday shows how his decision-making needs to improve. On the flip side, Tyler Ennis continued his impressive season.

The Super Bowl didn't exactly live up to the expectations, but the sporting weekend wasn't a total bust. On Saturday, in their first meeting as ACC opponents, Syracuse outlasted Duke in a 91-89 overtime thriller that featured dozens of twists, high-level play on both sides and a spell-binding conclusion.

From an NBA Draft perspective, the big story was the play of the two star freshmen, Jabari Parker of Duke and Tyler Ennis of Syracuse. While C.J. Fair was the best player on the court, he is also three years older than Parker and Ennis. We'll never know how good either would be as a college senior, since they will have both long since departed to the professional ranks.

For Parker, Jim Boeheim's 2-3 zone presented a unique challenge. It's always dangerous to take too much away from the way an NBA prospect plays against Syracuse, since he won't see anything like that defense at the next level. Nevertheless, there were a few interesting takeaways from Parker's game on Saturday.

This missed layup in the first half summed up a night where Parker scored 15 points on 6-of-16 shooting:


There are three defenders -- Rakeem Christmas, Baye Moussa-Keita and Fair -- within two feet of Parker when he takes the shot. That's an awful lot of length and athleticism to try to score over.

The key to beating a zone is moving the ball and making quick passes from the top of the key. Parker, on the other hand, was so focused on getting buckets that he bailed out the defense.


On this play, Parker has beaten the first defender and tries to dunk over the second. The problem is Jerami Grant is just as athletic and even longer than him, turning an easy basket into a jump ball. If Parker doesn't get tunnel vision, he can dump the ball off to Amile Jefferson for the easy basket.

You can see the same thing happening in transition late in the game, when Christmas blocks him at the rim:


Once again, the easy play is the dump-off to either one of his teammates running, either of whom could have gotten a wide-open layup if Parker had drawn the defense more effectively.

There's a reason Jim Boeheim has won over 900 games in his career. As a coach, he doesn't miss much. You can bet he told his players to sell out when Parker has the ball and dare him to pass.


Parker fouled out on this play, which, to be fair, clearly involved a bit of acting from Christmas. The point still stands though: If you try to play bully-ball against a zone, you make it easy to guard you.

Ennis, in contrast, never makes the game hard on himself. While he doesn't have nearly as much physical talent as Parker, he has the poise and feel for the game of a 10-year NBA veteran. His efficiency on Saturday speaks for itself: 14 points on 3-of-5 shooting, nine assists to two turnovers.

It's hard to do a GIF post for a guy like Ennis because, for the most part, nothing he does is spectacular. It's very basic basketball -- Ennis is always taking what the defense gives him.


When you can handle, shoot and read the floor, you don't need great size or speed to get an easy basket.

Ennis is only 6'2 and 180 pounds and he isn't an all-world athlete. But he's playing chess while everyone else is playing checkers.


While that play may not seem like a big deal to fans used to the NBA, it's all too rare in the college game. Ennis doesn't get sped up or turn the ball over, and he makes sure his teammates get open shots in rhythm like this in half-court situations. That's one of the main reasons why Syracuse is 21-0.

None of this means Ennis will be taken anywhere close to Parker come draft night. Parker can become a smarter player; Ennis isn't growing to 6'9 and 250 pounds over the next few months.

However, when trying to figure out who wins the ACC and who makes a deeper run in the NCAA Tournament, Syracuse fans have to feel pretty confident with Ennis leading the way. At this stage in their careers, the game comes easy for Ennis. Parker makes it harder than it has to be.

Games To Watch:

Baylor vs. Kansas (Tuesday, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN2): After a 1-6 start to Big 12 play that didn't reflect its talent level, Baylor may have turned the corner on Saturday with an impressive road win at Oklahoma State. Joel Embiid won't see a frontcourt with more length, talent and athleticism than the duo of Isaiah Austin and Cory Jefferson, which should make this game a treat for fans of post play. Kansas will be looking to bounce back after an upset loss at Texas where Andrew Wiggins had just seven points on 2-of-12 shooting.

Arizona vs. Oregon (Thursday, 9 p.m. ET, ESPN): The Wildcats' bid for an undefeated season ended on Saturday, when they lost at Cal on a last-second jumper. However, the real loss was talented combo forward Brandon Ashley, who broke his foot and will miss the rest of the season. That means bigger offensive roles for talented freshmen Aaron Gordon and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, which adds some intrigue to a game with a talented, but underachieving Oregon squad which features Mike Moser, a UNLV transfer once considered a first-round lock.

Iowa vs. Michigan (Saturday, 2 p.m. ET, ESPN): The big game in the Big Ten this week is a rematch of a 75-67 thriller in Ann Arbor a few weeks ago, a win that helped put Michigan back on the map after a disappointing non-conference season. Roy Devyn Marble, a 6'6 senior shooting guard trying to move himself into first-round talks, will get another shot at Nik Stauskas, who's been shooting up big boards like a rocket over the last few weeks.

More from SB Nation College Basketball

Watch Sacramento State's game-winning full-court heave

Top-ranked Arizona loses in final second | Brandon Ashley out for the year?

Tjarks: Jabari Parker must become more than a scorer

Onions! The stupid possession arrow and Super Bowl picks

The First 68: Kentucky's biggest problem, and the rise of Nik Stauskas

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