The case for Syracuse

In a Syracuse season shrouded by scandal—with allegations of sexual misconduct by a coach and charges of drug abuse by former players—it seems fitting that the Orange will have to deal with yet another shocking setback in the NCAA tournament.

Syracuse announced Tuesday that Fab Melo, the starting center who missed three games in late January due to an eligibility issue, has been declared academically ineligible for the rest of the year and will miss the entirety of the Big Dance. Prognosticators have since slashed Syracuse’s chances of advancing to the Final Four in New Orleans, but all year long, the Orange have proven doubters wrong and emerged from controversy relatively unscathed.

Head coach Jim Boeheim has guided Syracuse to 31 wins, a Big East regular-season championship and a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament in what has been perhaps the most successful season of the legendary coach’s career to date. If Syracuse were to win its second national championship under Boeheim’s watch, it would surely be his most impressive achievement yet, and even without Melo the Orange boast a roster capable of beating any team in the country.

Melo has already missed time this season, so the Orange have experience adjusting their style of play to accommodate a smaller lineup, and the three games Syracuse played in January sans Melo should give the team confidence this weekend. Syracuse’s foremost weakness is rebounding, and after losing the leading rebounder on the team, the onus will fall upon undersized forwards C.J. Fair and Kris Joseph to pick up the slack. Freshman forward Rakeem Christmas will likely replace Melo in the starting lineup as he did in January with reserve center Baye Keita rotating in. Although neither Christmas nor Keita can replace the sort of shot blocking and defense the 7-foot Melo provided, Syracuse went 2-1 with the duo filling in, only losing on the road to hot-shooting Notre Dame.

The Orange’s offense is fueled by its ferocious zone defense, Boeheim’s hallmark strategy that had been generating 21.5 points off turnovers per game entering March. Syracuse, a team comprised of long and lanky athletes seemingly tailor-made to play zone, averages the third-most steals per game in the country at 9.6 and is able to break into transition offense following a turnover better than any other team in the NCAA tournament. Even without Melo for three games, the Orange forced 14 turnovers per game against three Big East opponents that made the field—Notre Dame, Cincinnati and West Virginia.

Boeheim may be without the anchor to his vaunted zone in Melo, but if any team can afford such a loss, it is Syracuse. The Orange are one of the deepest teams in the nation, and Boeheim has the luxury of rotating between nine talented and experienced players on any given night.

Syracuse is led by seniors Joseph and Scoop Jardine, a duo that has helped the Orange to well over 100 wins in their careers. The strength of Syracuse, though, is its bench. In Dion Waiters and James Southerland, two explosive scoring guards, Syracuse possesses two players who can take over a game offensively coming off the bench. In the Orange’s loss to Cincinnati in the Big East tournament, Waiters dropped 28 points as a deadly outside shooter who can stretch an opposing defense and penetrate at will. If Waiters can continue his hot play, Syracuse has as good a chance as any team in the East region to make it to New Orleans and cut down the nets.


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