Since I last posted about Syracuse basketball (21-1 ~ 8-1 in the Big East) the team has lost a game, against Notre Dame, lost its number one ranking,
, but maybe worst of all, has been without their starting sophomore seven footer Fabricio (Fab) Melo, who is out “for a while” according to sources close to the situation due to the academic reasons. And even the national media is still unsure of the going ons, proven by the Seth Davis’ tweet (see below) from a couple of days ago. While most of the so-called experts, be it local or national, keep saying that the Orange are very deep, having watched the two games without Melo I would argue that head coach Jim Boeheim’s team isn’t that deep when it comes to filling up the middle of the 2-3 zone. The fact that the big men on this squad replacing Fab Melo are not top notch might be the difference between SU winning it all or not this season.
By all means, before we go off the ledge on my last statement, I still believe that Syracuse is among the top teams in the nation. However without Melo they are going to have a much harder time winning against squads that do have prominent players inside. Anyone that knows anything about playing the zone one of its flaws is that without experienced players the opposition can get second chance points by collecting offensive rebounds. When you think of squads like North Carolina, Kentucky and Ohio State they all have the big men that can dominate the paint and grab offensive boards. However, having said this, Fab Melo maybe more important to Syracuse in another way, as he has been the one cleaning up mistakes when the front two in the zone have let a guard slip through. There is no bigger let down than getting inside the zone, either with a good dribble drive or with a sharp pass, and have your shot sent to the third row by a big time block. And on the other hand there is no more excitement than watching someone thinking that he has an easy duece and then see it slapped away. With the seven footer in the middle I have to believe that the other four defenders took a bit more of a chance, making the 2-3 zone even harder to attack, without Melo this might not be possible.
Neither freshman Rakeem Christmas nor sophomore Baye Moussa Keita are the power that Melo has been, and even if they have plenty of time to work on their skills from now till March Madness I doubt they will be able to fill the void that the starting center would leave if he was not to come back. Lastly, in something that no one has touched much on, with the loss of the second year big man another thing needs to happen. For now, with so many good players on the court for coach Boeheim, no one has needed to come to the top and become the “go to guy” for the `Cuse. However, with the loss of the big man I believe that this squad does need that type of player to be there for the team to truly get into “championship mode”. Listening to Brent Axe he believes that the player that will fill this role will be Kris Joseph, I tend to agree with that, and I am sure that in the next few games we will see if both Brent and I are right.
On another note about this story, the fact that some in the Syracuse fan base are blaming the academic advisor about Melo’s school mishaps is absurd. It is a privelege, not a given, that a young man (or woman) is given a scholarship, they need to tend to their part of the bargain by going to class and getting their work done in order to play. It is no one else’s duty to do that, and while as fans we tend to want to lay blame on someone, in this instance the one that people should look at is Fab Melo and no one else.
I firmly believe in what Mr. Edson, former SU compliance officer, said in this quote. And I have to wonder this, something that most of the fanbase has probably thought about as well: if Melo was not come back this season due to lack of work ethic in the classrooms and the Orange fall short of the national title how much of the blame would go to the center and how welcome would he be next season?
As the team, including Fab Melo, works out awaiting their next game against West Virginia on Saturday, tip off time 1:00 p.m. EST (televised on ESPNU), who has what most believe to be the best big man in the conference in senior Kevin Jones, the coaching staff, the team and the fans will all be waiting for some word from the school. While I have no inside information I feel that in this case the longer things go the worst they might be. If this had been a formality, a mistake, a small problem I have to believe, whatever it was, it would have been taken care of as quickly as possible. But it hasn’t, and that just makes it feel like a lot more than just a small bump in the road. The good news in all of this is that Syracuse does have talent on the squad, plenty of it, and even without the big presence in the middle, they can overcome most anything that comes their way. The question will be can they overcome everything and raise the trophy when it’s all said and done? For that, just like the song says “only time will tell”.