Syracuse’s Fab Melo To Miss NCAA Tournament Because of an Eligibility IssuePosted by mlemaire on March 13th, 2012
The bad breaks just keep coming for Syracuse and its basketball program. After one of the team’s best seasons in recent history and right as they prepared for the NCAA Tournament as a #1 seed, they learned that starting center and key cog Fab Melo will miss the entire tournament due to an eligibility issue. Melo missed three games earlier this season because of academics,
but it is unclear whether this eligibility issue is about academics or something else as the school would not provide any additional details. [Update: It's apparently about academics and he is also apparently declaring for the NBA Draft]
It doesn’t take a basketball junkie to know that Melo’s absence is a potentially lethal blow to the Orange’s national title hopes. He was the best rebounder on a team that struggles to rebound the basketball and he was also the conference’s defensive player of the year this season. He is one of the main reasons why Syracuse limited opponents to an effective field-goal rate just 44 percent this season and the team’s staunch 2-3 zone relied on Melo to protect the rim — something he did very well during the regular season.
The onus now falls on freshman Rakeem Christmas and sophomore Baye Keita to pick up the slack and neither proved consistently capable of that during the regular season. The good news is that Keita and Christmas, while young, are athletic and energetic defenders who can block shots and rebound the basketball unless they run up against more experienced and physical post players. But the understated effect this blow might have on the Orange will be on the offensive end.
As good as Melo was defensively, the gap between Melo and Christmas and Keita is much greater on the offensive end than it is on the defensive end. Melo’s soft hands and formidable screens made the pick-and-roll and effective weapon for the team’s offense, and neither Keita nor Christmas have shown any semblance of an offensive game this season. It will be very interesting watch Jim Boeheim juggle the rotation accordingly and there is the possibility Boeheim would play a smaller lineup with C.J. Fair or James Southerland and Kris Joseph up front if the offense suffers.
A friend of mine pointed out on Facebook that Syracuse was also forced to play without its starting center as a #1 seed in 2010 when they lost Arinze Onuaku to a knee injury in the Big East Tournament. They went on to lose to Butler in the Sweet 16 that season.
The draw won’t do the Orange any favors either. A potential matchup with a physical Kansas State team in the second round could present matchup problems, and a potential Sweet 16 showdown with either Vanderbilt and Festus Ezeli or a long Wisconsin team could also pose serious problems to the suddenly weakened Orange.