Fab Melo’s dog changed the course of college basketball history.
At least that’s what I assume his excuse was when his grades dropped below the dreaded GPA eligibility line—my dog ate my homework. Despite how enjoyable it is to make fun of Melo’s academic malfunction, the ramifications of his cranium crash are no laughing matter.
With the Brazilian in the starting lineup, Syracuse was the best team in the country. Maybe Kentucky and North Carolina were as good as the Orange, but neither were better.
Cuse started the regular season off on a 20-game winning streak. As soon as Melo was dealt a three-game suspension, Jim Boeheim’s crew fell to Notre Dame, 67-58. The next two contests, though wins, were struggles as well.
When the seven-footer returned, domination commenced. They didn’t lose another game until a three-point letdown to a scorching Cincinnati Bearcats club in the Big East Tournament. Outside of that loss, Syracuse’s resume with Melo was spotless.
NCAA tournament teams that they handled during the regular season included Florida, NC State, Marquette, West Virginia, Georgetown, Louisville twice and Connecticut three times.
Cuse was a special breed of team. Despite the fact that their rotation boasted NBA prospects such as Melo, Dion Waiters and Kris Joseph, they played team-oriented basketball. Such a combination would’ve made them a dangerous squad come tournament time.
But even without their star center, Waiters and company managed to battle their way into the Elite Eight. That journey alone shows how much talent that they had. On Saturday, they were able to hang with Ohio State for most of the game.
In the contest, Jared Sullinger put up 19 points and inhaled seven rebounds. Melo on damage control would’ve been able to slow down Sullinger. The 255-pound Orange monster averaged 2.9 blocks a game this season—Cuse should still be alive.
But they’re not.
And with Kendall Marshall injured and Kansas failing to win games in an overwhelming fashion, it should hurt Orange fans because a Syracuse-Kentucky national title matchup would look extremely likely…with Melo in the lineup.
The NFL Network has a documentary series called The Missing Rings highlighting professional football teams that should’ve, could’ve and would’ve won a championship, but failed to do so. The Missing Nets has yet to be broadcast, but if there will ever be such a series, the 2011-12 Syracuse Orange would make the list.
David Daniels is a featured columnist at Bleacher Report and a syndicated writer.