Syracuse's Orange Struggles Not Panic Worthy Unless They Continue Without Fab

Andrew PreglerContributor IIIJanuary 29, 2012

PHILADELPHIA, PA - JANUARY 11:  Tyrone Johnson #3 of the Villanova Wildcats drives for a shot attempt against Fab Melo #51 of the Syracuse Orange at the Wells Fargo Center on January 11, 2012 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Chris Chambers/Getty Images)
Chris Chambers/Getty Images

There is no doubt that Syracuse is struggling without Fab Melo in the lineup. The Orange have responded with two wins since their initial loss to Notre Dame, but as shown against West Virginia, these two victories have been slim. 

Fab Melo's absence has highlighted two main areas of weakness for the Orange: half-court offense and rebounding. 

Without Fab, the Orange have been out rebounded 193-103 and the West Virginia game was the worst effort by far. The team could not battle under the net and constantly tipped the ball into the hands of West Virginia perimeter players rather than battling inside. 

The half-court offense has been lackluster at best because passing the ball inside to the post has been ineffective. Not only have Rakeem Christmas and Baye Moussa Kieta been inconsistent at best, but they struggle to provide points the way Fab does. 

This has led to the guards taking more perimeter shots and forcing drives into the lane that ultimately fail, thank you very much Dion Waiters. 

But there is no need to panic. Syracuse in the span has won games and the struggle to determine the No. 2 team in the conference is evidence enough to show that the gradual improvement of Christmas and Kieta may be enough to survive this stretch. 

What is truly worrisome is if Fab doesn't return in time for the Georgetown-UConn-Louisville stretch. These three teams all matched up well against the Orange inside with Fab Melo; without a doubt, there is a clear disadvantage that could hurt the Orange. 

Georgetown is famous for its bruising half-court style of play and there should be no doubt that they would go aggressively at foul happy Christmas and Keita. A weakened Syracuse would be perfect prey for an opportunistic UConn who will be coming with Andre Drummond, a handful for any opponent. 

Syracuse can counter with their depth at the guards, but C.J. Fair and James Southerland have not done as well without Fab either as their matchups and roles have significantly changed. These two smaller forwards have not been scoring or rebounding like before and it again has hurt the Orange where they need the most help. 

However, Jim Boeheim has adapted to each game well enough that Syracuse may be able to squeak a win past all three of these teams if Fab continues to miss games. This team's talent is enough to carry them to a regular season Big East title, which should be enough for a No. 1 seed once the NCAA Tournament rolls around. 

At that point, Fab should be back pending some far more serious issue that has yet to be seen. Without him, Syracuse is still a slim Final Four favorite, however teams do have a much more obvious place to attack the Orange.