It’s hard to quantify just how far Fab Melo has come in his sophomore season at Syracuse. He’s gone from a liability on both ends of the floor to somebody the Orange depend on, especially in the defensive end. It was obvious during his midseason absence from the team how vital Fab is to the Orange and its road through March. SU suffered its only loss of the season at Notre Dame, and struggled mightily with Cincinnati. Jim Boeheim’s boys looked like a completely different team.
Last season Fab’s role was to start, and then get immediately pulled from the game. He barely broke a sweat, then banished to the bench, all before the under 16 timeout. He was out of shape, lost in the zone, couldn’t contribute on offense and fans weren’t happy about it. Many expected an impact center, but he put up only 2.3 points and 2 rebounds a game and left fans wondering if he would ever pan out.
It got even worse in the off season with the ugly incident involving his girlfriend that left questions whether he would even return to the team. Fab withstood the controversy, began to get in shape, and learned the nuances of the zone. Now, Fab has turned into one of the most dominant defensive players in America and his offensive game grows every day.
Outside of Anthony Davis, Fab is one of the best shot blockers in college basketball, influencing seemingly every shot in the paint. He also excels at taking charges and is an improving rebounder (although like his teammates Fab needs to work on that). In his absence it was clear he is the player Syracuse can least afford to lose.
He has made incredible strides on both ends of the floor. Fab’s jump shot still leaves plenty to be desired, but he shoots a very solid 58% from the field, and is an efficient finisher. Last year, every time he touched the ball fans just hoped it wasn’t a turnover. But with his improved physique, he’s caught alley-oops with ease, showing ability to run the floor and score inside. While he isn’t a great foul shooter, he’s over 60% from the line (respectable for a big man, and better than Scoop).
Fab’s improvement is remarkable, and it’s brought pressure with it. With the poor play of Baye Keita, and Boeheim’s lack of trust in freshman Rakeem Christmas, all the important minutes will fall to Fab as games get bigger. Melo changes how teams play on offense, altering shots and providing a presence that nobody on SU can come close to matching.
So in just one year Fab has gone from an out of shape non-factor to irreplaceable force for one of the best teams in the country. If Syracuse plans to cut down the nets in New Orleans it’s going to need even more from Fab. When he’s playing his best SU has a real shot at the title. If Fab wears down, it could be another early exit in the NCAA Tournament.
Posted: Alex Plavin