The second-ranked Syracuse Orange will roll into its second home, Madison Square Garden, to take on the St. John’s Red Storm on Saturday at noon. This will be the first visit to the Garden for Syracuse since its championship victory over Stanford in the NIT Tip-Off Classic last November.
Back from his three-game hiatus, Syracuse sophomore Fab Melo looks to make his triumphant return to the center of the lane in coach Jim Boeheim’s vaunted 2-3 zone. While Melo may not start, according to Syracuse.com, his gargantuan frame will be a welcomed presence on the lineup card.
How much of a difference does Fab Melo make?
Melo only missed three games, so stats don’t do that argument justice, but the eye test tells a story of a team lost in translation. This was a team that could cheat on defense, knowing that a Brazilian giant was waiting to clean up the mess.
Without him, holes in the zone opened and the middle of the paint was surrendered in a hostile takeover.
With Melo in the lineup, Syracuse is one of the best shot-blocking teams in the nation. The Orange still managed to pull their share of turnovers in his absence, but they were killed on the glass. Fab Melo only averages 5.7 rebounds per game, but his body in the lane allowed his teammates to clean the boards. Without him, Syracuse’s opponents looked like schoolyard bullies trying to steal the Orange’s lunch money.
Fab Melo’s return means that the rest of the team can go back to normal duties.
This Syracuse team goes 10-deep, but each player plays a role. Until Melo’s absence, it was thought that any one player for the Orange could be interchanged with another. Syracuse fans learned quickly against Notre Dame that this was not the case.
Fab Melo’s role was written exclusively for Fab Melo.
Syracuse will be fine with Baye Keita and Rakeem Christmas giving Melo breathers, but neither is a full-time replacement for him.
Offensively, Syracuse is a jack of all trades, but a master of none.
There isn’t any one aspect of the Syracuse offense that the Orange does better than any other team in the country. They tend to go with the hot hand and when that hand cools down, any one of nine other players can pick up the slack.
Luckily for Syracuse, its other two branches of basketball government are defense and transition. It is in these two aspects that Syracuse, with Melo, is peerless. Melo's shot-blocking and rebounding are two of the main catalysts to the Syracuse running game and Jim Boeheim should have a look of relief to see them back serving his team.
It's a very brief look of relief.
Melo has been practicing with the team and only missed three games, so there should be little to no adjustment period. The rest of the team can go back to normal duties and should enjoy travelling to its home away from home, Madison Square Garden.
This perfect Orange storm should prove to be too much for the Red Storm to handle.