Syracuse University announced Tuesday afternoon that starting center Fab Melo is ineligible and will miss the 2012 NCAA Tournament. This latest development is a devastating blow to the Orange's championship aspirations, as Jim Boeheim's squad was noticeably weaker in three games earlier this season without its starting center.
Melo, who averaged 7.8 points, 5.8 rebounds and 2.9 blocks per game, was the anchor of Syracuse's 2-3 zone. Without him in three games near the end of January, the Orange were a missed goaltending call from possibly going 1-2. They were out-rebounded by 13 in the loss to Notre Dame on Jan. 21 and by 16 in the controversial 63-61 win over West Virginia on Jan. 28.
If you can't rebound in the NCAA Tournament, you're in serious trouble.
Syracuse will still survive against No. 16 seed UNC-Asheville, but a third-round matchup with either Kansas State or Southern Miss will be much more of a challenge than Boeheim anticipated. Both teams rebound better than the Orange to begin with, so without Melo, Syracuse is at a serious disadvantage.
Against Southern Miss, Syracuse would be able to score enough to advance. However, Kansas State would have a legitimate chance of sending the Orange home. Don't forget the Wildcats have already beaten Missouri twice by out-rebounding the smaller Tigers.
In the Sweet 16, Syracuse would face any combination of Wisconsin, Vanderbilt, Harvard or Montana. The Commodores would pose the greatest threat because of their shooting ability and their bigs.
John Jenkins and Jeffery Taylor are assassins from long range, and Brad Tinsley and Rod Odom can also shoot the 3. Inside, Festus Ezeli is a beast, and Lance Goulbourne is a capable passer from the elbow and block.
How far can Syracuse go without Fab Melo?
Tinsley would have an easier time getting inside the lane without Melo, so against the zone, Vanderbilt's shooters would be even more open. Even if they should miss, Ezeli and Goulbourne could clean up the offensive glass.
Syracuse still has the firepower to advance to the Elite Eight. However, be very wary of sending the Orange any further.
Especially if you think they'll face Ohio State in the regional. The Buckeyes are well-rounded on the perimeter and inside, and they should be favored in a matchup against the Orange. Ohio State ranked No. 7 nationally with a plus-7.4 rebounding margin
Let's go out on a limb and say Syracuse beats Ohio State—or doesn't have to face the Buckeyes—and imagine a Final Four matchup between the Orange and UNC or Kansas. They'd stand a chance against the Jayhawks but the Tar Heels' size advantage would propel them past the Orange.
Crazy things happen in March. If VCU could reach the Final Four in 2011, Syracuse theoretically could pull off a miracle in 2012. However, the Orange's championship aspirations took a huge blow this afternoon.