Ryan MacCammon | Staff PhotographerMen's Basketball
Carter-Williams adjusts game against smaller guards en route to becoming top-level point guard
Michael Carter-Williams felt like he had something to prove. He’s heard the talk about him not being able to play against smaller guards, and the Syracuse point guard wanted to quell that discussion.
He’s taken major steps toward doing that in the Orange’s five games this season. He’s been matched up against guards who have been as many as three to four inches shorter than him. But that’s never been a problem. Carter-Williams is leading the nation with 9.2 assists per game, and he’s doing that against small, quick guards in almost every game.
On Monday, Carter-Williams will face that challenge again against an undersized Eastern Michigan lineup when Syracuse plays the Eagles at 7 p.m. in the Carrier Dome. Eastern Michigan pales in comparison to SU’s size, and 5-foot-11-inch Jalen Ross will likely spend plenty of time trying to stop Carter-Williams.
“I know there’s been a lot of talk about me having trouble playing against little guards,” Carter-Williams said. “I’ve been working harder at it.”
He’s given teams nightmares at both ends of the floor. Down in Arkansas, Carter-Williams stole the ball from Razorbacks guard Rashad Madden and then raced up the floor for a layup that put Syracuse up 11 points.
At the top of the zone, he’s been a menace for the Orange’s opponents.
“When teams play us they’re not going to be used to playing long guards, especially at the top of the zone,” forward James Southerland said.
Carter-Williams entered the season set to share the point guard position with senior and four-year starter Brandon Triche. But after his stellar play in the first five games, it appears he will be running the point, allowing Triche to play off the ball.
Carter-Williams played in 26 games as a freshman last year, but he saw fewer and fewer minutes as the season progressed and Syracuse’s schedule grew tougher. He did still manage to show flashes of brilliance, even in Big East contests.
Carter-Williams scored 13 points and had three assists in 17 minutes against St. John’s. But that came in a freshman season where he could fade into the background as Syracuse featured a litany of guards, including Triche, point guard Scoop Jardine and sixth man Dion Waiters.
In his sophomore season, Carter-Williams has a bigger role and he’s excelled so far.
“It’s definitely tougher, especially with having Scoop, who basically led the show for three years,” Southerland said. “Having Michael Carter-Williams, really his first time controlling the team. He’ll get more comfortable during the season.”
Syracuse featured an offense that thrived in transition last season, and that won’t change this year. When Triche and Carter-Williams are on the court at the same time, the Orange has two guards who thrive in transition. And most importantly, their awareness on the floor is superb so they can always find the open shooter on the outside with minimal hesitation.
Southerland said his nine 3-pointers resulted from their high “IQs.” And given this is Carter-Williams’ first season as the starting point guard, his wherewithal on the floor is even more impressive.
“We’re going to make sure we do that. With me and Mike, we have two guards who can bring the ball up the court,” Triche said. “Whoever gets it is going to try to push it up as fast as we can, to to pass it up to whatever wing that’s running, try to get easy buckets like that.”
Carter-Williams is stepping into a bigger role, and Syracuse will need him to produce. The Orange only has three guards in its rotation: Carter-Williams, Triche and Trevor Cooney.
Through five games, Carter-Williams has been the explosive point guard Syracuse hoped he would become in his second season. And he’s proven it against all of his competition so far.
“I just wanted to show that I can play against little guards,” Carter-Williams said. “No matter who it is.”
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