Syracuse's chances of advancing to the Final Four out of the East region in the 2012 NCAA tournament seemed slim with Fab Melo, so where do the Orange stand now that Melo is ineligible for the Big Dance?
In a phrase, on the outside looking in.
Not that the Orange are in any way strangers to controversy and distraction. From accusations of child sexual abuse against long-time assistant Bernie Fine to details about Jim Boeheim's prior allowance of players who failed drug tests to play, to Melo's prior academic problems, Syracuse has handled every bit of adversity with poise en route to a 31-2 record and a No. 1 seed in March Madness.
Trouble is, the Orange can't just sweep this latest misstep under the rug—not for long, anyway. On the one hand, the 'Cuse know how to play without Melo. They spent three games without the sophomore center in the lineup earlier this season, when he was withheld on account of similar issues in the classroom.
On the other hand, the Orange know full well just how important Melo is to their success, particularly in light of the way they struggled in his absence. Their production in the paint and in second-chance points dipped considerably in Melo's absence, as did their ability to rebound and defend on the interior.
That should come as little surprise, considering that Melo is the only physical post presence on whom Boeheim could rely. Baye Keita and Rakeem Christmas are both tall and long, but neither can be considered much of an intimidator down low.
That is crucial, considering how soft and easily penetrable Syracuse's 2-3 zone defense can be without an enforcer in the middle.
The Orange have more than enough talent to overcome Melo's loss against No. 16 seed UNC-Asheville, and even Kansas State or Southern Miss in the Round of 32.
But against sharpshooting teams like Vanderbilt and Wisconsin in the Sweet 16, the 'Cuse may not be so fortunate.
And should they survive and advance to the Elite Eight, they'd be hard-pressed to top Jared Sullinger and Ohio State without Melo in the middle.
So, if you had Syracuse inked for a trip to New Orleans, you'd be wise to reconfigure your bracket, or scrap it entirely, because as maddening as March Madness may be on its own accord, it's bound to be even more so for a now-shorthanded Syracuse squad.
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