Syracuse's Fab Melo out of NCAA Tournament: 8 Teams That Can Beat the Orange

Doug Brodess@DougbrodessCorrespondent IMarch 14, 2012

Syracuse's Fab Melo out of NCAA Tournament: 8 Teams That Can Beat the Orange

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    Syracuse's sophomore center, Fab Melo, is out for the rest of the 2012 NCAA Tournament.

    University officials stated Tuesday that it was an eligibility issue. Because of SU policy and federal student privacy laws, additional information is not being provided.

    Melo's absence in the middle of the Syracuse lineup will leave the Orange without their top shot blocker (2.93 bpg; No. 12 in the Nation) and rebounder (5.8 rpg).

    Back in January, Notre Dame took advantage when Melo missed a game. The Fighting Irish dominated the glass (37-24) and gave Syracuse their first loss of the season.

    With the 2012 Big East Defensive Player of the Year in the clogging the lane, Syracuse was a tough team that applied pressure and intimidated opponents.

    Without Melo in the middle, Syracuse is not nearly as menacing and may be vulnerable to defeat now to the following eight teams.

8. West Virginia Mountaineers

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    It's amazing as we go through this list how many teams ended up in the East Region that are strong inside teams.

    West Virginia trots out two huge forwards in Kevin Jones (pictured; 6'8" 260 lbs) and Deniz Kilici (6'9" 260 lbs).

    Jones is the No. 4 rebounder in the country (11.1 rpg) who also just happens to be the No. 15 scorer in the nation (20.1 ppg)

    Don't let the Mountaineers 19-9 record fool you. Six of those losses came by four points or less.

    Bob Huggins always has his team play great defense and is ready to be as physical as any team in college hoops.

    In the one game that West Virginia played against Syracuse, the Orange pulled out a close two-point game at the Carrier Dome.

    If these two meet again...Can you say "Payback Game?"

7. Kansas State Wildcats

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    No. 9 seed Kansas State was a team of ups and downs this season.

    The Wildcats entered 2012 with a 11-1 record.

    Then Frank Martin's squad hit a rough patch, losing three of four games as they started their Big 12 schedule.

    But KState has shown that they can play with the Big Boys by beating No. 2 seed Missouri twice this season and No. 3 seed Baylor once.

    Without Melo down low, the Wildcats brawny front line tandem of Jordan Henriquez and Jamar Samuels could cause the Orange some trouble.

    Even the Cats leading scorer, Rodney MacGruder (pictured) could take advantage of Fab's absence.

6. Gonzaga Bulldogs

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    Gonzaga is another team that could exploit Melo's absence.

    The Zags send out Elias Harris (pictured, 6'7", 240 lbs) and Robert Sacre (7'0", 260 lbs), along with Sam Dower (6'9", 250 lbs) off the bench.

    But Mark Few's crew is not just a "pound-it-inside" team. They have a nice collection of three-point shooters that keep things open. 

    Freshmen guard Kevin Pangos is the Bulldogs leading scorer (13.8 ppg) who shoots 40.5 percent from beyond the arc.

    Another freshmen guard, Gary Bell Jr., (10 ppg) connects on a sizzling 47.4 percent from downtown.

    Even Harris has a nice touch (40.3 percent) from distance.

    Few is a crafty coach, able to help his team compete with teams that are more physically-gifted. I guess that's how they've made four trips to the Sweet 16 during his tenure.

5. Cincinnati Bearcats

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    Here's a surprise: There's another team in the East that is big and physical—Cincinnati.

    It seems like the entire Bearcats roster is made up of forceful, physical players.

    Yancy Gates is a mountain of a PF (6'9" 270 lbs) who nearly averaged a double-double (12.4 ppg; 9.2 rpg).

    Since the middle of February, Mick Cronin's squad is a nice 7-2 with quality wins over Big East rivals Louisville (four-seed), Marquette (three-seed) and Georgetown (three-seed).

    Without Melo's looming presence, Cincy's lead scorers, guards Sean Kilpatrick (14.3 ppg) and Dion Dixon (13.1 ppg) may take it even more strongly to the cup than normal.

4. Vanderbilt Commodores

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    The Commodores may have finally found their mojo just in time for March Madness.

    If there was any question about Vandy's ability to win big games, the Commodores may have just laid that one to rest.

    Kevin Stallings senior-dominated team (six on the roster) won four of their last five games, defeating Florida and then (this past weekend) Kentucky for the SEC Tournament title.

    Vandy has the top two scorers (John Jenkins, 19.9 ppg; Jeffery Taylor, 16.4 ppg) in the SEC on the wings.

    The 6'11 center Festus Ezeli (pictured; 10 ppg; 5.5 rpg; 2 bpg) work down-low may be a key to whether or not Vanderbilt makes a deep run all the way to New Orleans.

    Oh, yeah...That would include taking out Syracuse in the Sweet 16.

3. Ohio State Buckeyes

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    Though the Orange will encounter some tough games in the earlier rounds, they are really going to face one challenge after another from the Elite 8 forward.

    If both one-seed Syracuse and two-seed Ohio State make it to the East Region finals, watch out!

    We are talking about a heavyweight boxing match.

    The Buckeyes have an excellent frontcourt trio of Jared Sullinger (pictured; 17.6 ppg; 9.3 rpg), DeShaun Thomas (15.4 ppg; 5.0 rpg) and William Buford (14.7 ppg; 4.9 rpg).

    Plus, Thad Matta has one of the best on-ball defenders in PG Aaron Craft.

    Even before Melo was declared ineligible, OSU was going to be able to stand toe-to-toe with the Orange.


2. North Carolina Tar Heels

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    If the Tar Heels and Orange make it to the Final Four, this could be one of the best Semi-final games in a long time.

    UNC is the top rebounding team (45.2 rpg) and No. 2 scoring team (82 ppg) in the nation.

    Carolina has one of the top frontcourts in the nation.

    Tyler Zeller (16.5 ppg) and Harrison Barnes (17.4 ppg) form a great inside-outside combination.

    We will see whether or not John Henson's (13.8) wrist will be completely recovered.

    PG Kendall Marshall has emerged as another scoring option, averaging 15 points and 10 assists per game over the last four contests.

    It's an understatement to say that Jim Boeheim's bunch would've been much better off in facing the Buckeyes if they had the services of Fab Melo.

1. Kentucky Wildcats

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    If the Cuse and Kentucky make it to the Final Game, Syracuse will have their biggest challenge of the season and the 2012 NCAA Tournament.

    The Wildcats are deservedly the No. 1 overall seed of the tournament.

    Anthony Davis leads the nation in blocked shots (4.6 bpg) and the Cats in scoring (14.3 ppg) and rebounding (10 rpg).

    Doron Lamb is a slick-shooting guard (14.3 ppg) who connects on almost 46 percent of his threes.

    Terrence Jones (12.5 ppg; seven rpg) and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (11.8 ppg; 7.6 rpg) provide an uber-talented lineup that enters the tournament as the odds-on favorite to win it all.

    Removing Melo from the lane will only open things up for Calipari's squad.