The Fab Melo-less Orange will still be able to stand tall against Ohio State and their daunting forward, Jared Sullinger in tonight's Elite Eight matchup.
While the loss of Melo has been a psychological blow on No. 2 'Cuse, underclassmen Rakeem Christmas and Baye Keita have stepped up during tourney time to take on the physical load of their academically ineligible starter.
Freshman Rakeem Christmas, who will start tonight against the No. 2-seeded Buckeyes, will have to bring a physical toughness to his matchup against Sullinger.
Measuring 6'9", Christmas and Sullinger equal each other in length. Fab Melo's seven-foot stature certainly would have been an advantage in Boston tonight, but the Orange will not incur a height disadvantage when Christmas takes on Sullinger.
Although Sullinger is meatier, weighing in at 265 pounds, the 228-pound Christmas is leaner and quicker.
Speed will allow Christmas to stay in front of Sullinger, get a hand up and force him to shoot fadeaways.
Christmas has also shown good rebounding ability on defense. This is especially clutch for Syracuse who have struggled on the defensive glass all year.
Further, the freshman center also has the tournament statistics that evidence an all-around solid performance.
In his Dance debut, Christmas racked up two blocks, six points and seven rebounds in 25 minutes against UNC-Asheville.
He followed that up with an encore performance against Kansas State, playing almost the full game to haul in 11 rebounds (seven defensive) and three blocks on the defensive end.
In those two games, he shot above 50 percent, averaging seven points, nine rebounds and 2.5 blocks. Compare that with Melo's season averages: 7.8 points, 5.8 rebounds and 2.9 blocks per game.
Obviously this is an extremely small sample size. But Christmas has proven he can stack up to the missing player and come through in high-pressure situations.
Expect to watch a heated, physical matchup between Christmas and Sullinger. But expect the freshman to hold his own in his Elite Eight debut.