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.