With all the hoopla surrounding Tyler Ennis’ arrival to campus, along with Tyler Roberson and the other 3 members of the Orange’s freshmen class (ranked No. 6 nationally), star senior C.J. Fair has practically become an afterthought. The incoming point guard is getting all the hype, but it’s Fair, continuing Cuse’s recent string of strong senior leaders, who is going to have the breakout year.
I know what you are thinking; how can the returning leading scorer and rebounder have a breakout year? Well, I think Fair is poised for an 18ppg and 9rpg campaign that will likely catapult him into the first round come draft day next June.
Just look at how much Fair has improved every season, as he has continued to get more and more chances to shine:
As the minutes went up, so did all of his stats. But the key is that he continued to shoot and rebound well on a per minute basis. Even though he won’t increase his minutes this season, a myriad of other factors will help his stats grow.
Let’s start with the fact that last season Fair was by far Syracuse’s most consistent player, among a largely inconsistent group. He shot 47% from the field and 46.9% from three-point range, while averaging 14.5 ppg. He did so in spite of defenses, with James Southerland out for extended stretches, packing the lane while sagging off of Michael Carter-Williams (29% 3PT ) and Brandon Triche (28.8% 3PT), daring them to shoot.
Teams won’t have that luxury this year, having to key in on Ennis, and backcourt mate, redshirt sophomore Trevor Cooney. As a result the lanes are going to be open for Fair to go one on one. Fair thrives in the half court whether it be isolation situations where he can spin into the lane or drive baseline, or being setup off of a drive and kick by one of the guards. Unless Ennis ends up being a lot less potent than as he has looked to this point, and Cooney struggles again, Fair, and sophomore Jerami Grant are going to have even more opportunities down low to score.
Speaking of the guard play, MCW and Triche knew the zone and were long up top, leading to lots of turnovers and fast breaks. This limited the half-court sets that Fair thrives in.
Ennis’s and Cooney’s combined inexperience with the zone, and lack of size, will mean more possessions making it into the paint against Syracuse, and less turnovers forced up top. The result will be more rebounding opportunities for the Orange, which is why I think Fair will improve his rebounding numbers from seven per game to around nine per outing this year.
The lack of steals and pressure up top will also result in a drastic reduction in fast break opportunities. Less running means slowing down the Orange’s offense, which of course brings us back to C.J.’s preferred half-court sets.
Let’s take our hypothetical one step further. After taking just three shots from behind the arc during his freshman year, he took 24 during his sophomore year and then 64 last year. After knocking down 47% of those attempts last season, one would assume he has the confidence to take more. What if Coach Jim Boeheim gets creative and adds some length to the zone by playing Fair up top with Ennis? With tremendous front court depth, this isn’t a far-fetched scenario. It would certainly mean more three-point attempts for Fair and logically more points on the scoreboard, even if he shoots at a less accurate clip.
Expect more from C.J. Fair this year. He’s proven he can handle the pressure and the expectations, and with increased opportunities, the results have always followed. By the time March rolls around, he will be “the guy” for the Orange, and his play, more than even Ennis’s, will likely decide how far they go into the tournament.