- Dana O'Neil, ESPN Senior Writer
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I’m not sure who coined the phrase, "It’s not where you start; it’s where you finish." My guess it was a late bloomer of some sort.
Or Tyler Ennis.
When the season started, we had basketball’s edition of the Fab Four, a quartet of supremely talented freshmen everyone was anxious to see -- Jabari Parker, Julius Randle, Andrew Wiggins and Aaron Gordon.
As the season progressed, we’ve gone the opposite way of Agatha Christie’s “And Then There Were None.” Instead of eliminating freshman phenoms, we keep adding them.
Like Ennis. The Syracuse point guard didn’t have quite the hype to make the first cut; instead he’s had the game to merit the late addition. He ranks fifth in the country in assist-to-turnover ratio, averages 12.3 points, 5.4 assists and 2.5 steals per game and, according to ESPN Stats & Research guru Ryan Feldman, is better when it matters most -- dishing out 14 assists to zero turnovers in the last five minutes of games.
Want to know why Syracuse is undefeated and ranked second in the nation? See above.
But being the latest addition is a lot easier than living up to the hype. If you aren’t on the early list, you can strive to make it. If you are, you worry about falling off. That’s where Parker comes in.
The Duke rookie was The Best Player Since (LeBron, Carmelo, you pick) until Wiggins reclassified and took over the tag (only to cede it to teammate Joel Embiid, at least for now). Parker has played under the glare of the spotlight, the weight of expectations and the enormity of the school name emblazoned on his chest for three months now.
By all accounts and statistics, he has handled it all masterfully. Parker averages 18.8 points and 8.1 rebounds per game (third best in the ACC in each) and has had maybe two games that could qualify as off nights, a seven-point effort against Notre Dame that earned him a spot on the bench at the end of the game and eight against Virginia.
Now the party crasher joins the original invitee in what will be an epic clash at the Carrier Dome. Duke-Syracuse has enough subplots and storylines to fill a phone book as two historic programs embark on their new in-conference rivalry.
But since this season started, the freshmen have been a thing. Now that we are officially one month from March, it’s time to start seeing who finishes -- and not just starts -- strong.