Syracuse's Fab Melo out of NCAA Tournament: How Far Can Orange Go Without Him?

Gene SiudutContributor IIIMarch 13, 2012

NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 09: Fab Melo #51 of the Syracuse Orange drives to the basket against the Cincinnati Bearcats during the semifinals of the Big East men's basketball tournament at Madison Square Garden on March 9, 2012 in New York City.  (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)
Chris Trotman/Getty Images

The winds being felt nation-wide are coming from Upstate New York as the Syracuse Nation just let out a collective, "What the heck?!"

Once again, sophomore center Fab Melo has been ruled ineligible to play basketball and did not make the trip to Pittsburgh for the Orange’s  opening game in the NCAA tournament against North Carolina-Asheville.

So, what does it mean?

That all depends on the opponent and the only assured opponent of Syracuse at the moment is NC-Asheville.

Syracuse played three games in late-January/early-February without Fab Melo due to another academic issue. The Orange went 2-1, losing their first game of the season to Notre Dame while being the No. 1 ranked team in America.

Before that series of games, Syracuse was blowing the doors off its opponents. After the return of Melo, Syracuse still managed to win all of its games until the semifinals of the Big East Tournament, but failed to establish the dominance it was accustomed to beforehand.

Syracuse ranks 129th in rebounding in the NCAA, so a part of its game that was a weakness just took a hit, but that’s not to say that rebounding will be the big issue. Both Baye Keita and Rakeem Christmas can be serviceable rebounders and C.J. Fair, when given the opportunity, can crash the boards very efficiently.

An important thing to remember is that Syracuse went the entire season without being a strong rebounding team because of their style of play.

Syracuse forces so many turnovers that it just doesn’t get the rebounding opportunities afforded to other teams. Luckily for Syracuse, they haven’t needed them.

Fab Melo’s absence will be felt on the defensive block, where his 88 blocks this season will be missed. His seven-foot frame clogged the middle of the zone and his presence forced bad shots.

This is where Rakeem Christmas must establish himself as the future center of Syracuse basketball. He’s been a starter the entire year, but usually makes a quick exit for C.J. Fair and hasn’t been able to cut out a slice of the Syracuse Orange for himself.

Well this is his chance.

Besides his defensive prowess, Fab Melo became a very good passer this season, but sometimes he lost focus, as was evident in the Orange’s game against Connecticut in the third round of the Big East Tournament. His kick-out passes looked more like kick-offs.

Syracuse is a team that goes ten deep, and now it will have to go nine deep. It still has the talent to get to the Final Four, the play will just have to be crisper without Melo to clean up the mess when defenders break through the zone.

For the immediate future, the only team that should really worry Syracuse in the size department is Ohio State, but Syracuse poses so many other match-up problems for the Buckeyes that they should be able to survive.

Even without Melo, Syracuse has considerable size.

They should be able to weather this storm at least until the Final Four. Then it’s anyone’s game.

That dream matchup with Kentucky's Anthony Davis isn’t looking so hot anymore, nor is trying to get through Carolina, but the Tar Heels have their own problems with the ACC defensive player of the year, John Henson, being banged up.

Can Syracuse still win it all?

Yes, but it’s going to take a group effort from a team that has managed to play as a team the entire season.

It’s going to be an uphill battle for a team that has endured more than its share of controversy in one season. Heck, it’s endured enough strife this year to last a lifetime with the Bernie Fine Scandal, the prior Melo suspension and the Yahoo! Sports report on Syracuse's alleged misreporting of drug offenses.

What’s one more log on the fire?