What Went Wrong: Fab Melo’s Ineligibility Wrecked SU’s Final Four Chances

The Fizz releases its annual series looking back on a failed March run.

Editor’s note: The Fizz is rebooting its series from last year asking “What Went Wrong?” We will unveil a new reason every day this week on why SU’s March run fell incomplete. 

For the second time in three years, Syracuse fans will be left to wonder what could have been after losing a key big man just before the NCAA Tournament. After a shocking loss to Butler in 2010, Orange Nation lamented how different things might have been had Arinze Onuaku not gone down with a knee injury in the Big East Tournament. After Saturday’s emotional loss to Ohio State, Orange Nation will never get over Fab Melo’s ineligibility.

The Orange entered the Tournament at 31-2, largely due to the presence of Melo in the middle. The Brazilian sophomore averaged 7.8 points, 5.9 rebounds, and 2.9 blocks on his way to winning the Big East’s Defensive Player of the Year award. Suddenly, on the eve of the NCAA Tournament, Melo’s murky status meant he would not play.

That sent fans rushing to throw out their original brackets, and a feeling of panic into the stomachs of the Syracuse faithful. Fab was arguably SU’s most valuable player, because there simply was no one else on the roster who could fill his void. The lone regular season loss came at Notre Dame with Melo sidelined because of the first round of academic concerns. The Orange would have to enter the most important part of its season without its enforcer, left to start an inexperienced freshman in his place.

Orange fans still haven’t been told what those eligibility concerns were over. SU was able to find enough from Rakeem Christmas and Baye Keita to reach the Elite 8, but banging with the Jared Sullinger proved too much. Would Sully have been able to score 16 points in the second half with Melo under the basket? Would Fab have sent a few of those Lenzelle Smith floaters into the third row? Could the Buckeyes possibly have corralled 14 offensive rebounds if Melo were in the middle?

While Syracuse had gutsy performances over K-State and Wisconsin, the lack of inside muscle finally caught up with them against OSU. Sullinger and DeShaun Thomas took over the game, combining for 33 points and 16 rebounds, while making a living in Melo’s area.

Keita and Christmas filled in admirably in Melo’s absence. Keita blocked 4 shots and pulled 10 rebounds against Ohio State, while Christmas added 6 points and 2 blocks of his own. But Fab’s impact on the game was much bigger than numbers, he provided a physical presence inside that was lacking against the Buckeyes. Keita and Christmas couldn’t match Sullinger’s muscle. Fab would’ve been much better equipped for that battle.

We’ll never know how a Fab vs. Sully throwdown would have turned out. It’s impossible to compute the impact a particular player would have on a game. This team won three tournament games shorthanded, and fell just short of a Final Four appearance. But Orange Nation will never shake the feeling this run would have been even longer had Fab Melo been a part of it.

Posted: Steve Neikam

3 Comments on this Post

  1. That picture of Fab up top makes him look just like the idiot many of us know he is. Sure he improved over last season but not so much that a 7’er could or perhaps even should have improved. He popped a couple jumpers from the pain and suddenly he was thought to be the next Kareem. He never developed a turn inside which requires good positioning of his feet and pivot on his left foot and laying the ball up while probably getting fouled. His offense was mostly an occasion put back and alley dunk.We can do better down there.

  2. AnaheimOrange

    I know plenty of folks are down on Fab and it seems that most do not want him back next year. However, have we heard anything about his intentions? I have heard rumor that he will stay in Syracuse this summer to work on school. If that is true, it implies he intends to return. Can the Fizz shake anything loose on this?

  3. orangeskin

    If Fab comes back to SU next year, I will need to be resuscitated. He’s done at SU and that’s all there is to it. He’s being investigated for cheating and that’s why he was sat. There’s evidence that he copied another student’s work so SU could not take a chance and play him. He’ll play somewhere next year, be it in the NBA or overseas, but he’s done on the college level. I will also say this: Fab plays and SU wins. No doubt about it. Smith’s floaters would’ve been rejected, as would a couple of Sullinger’s over the shoulder hook shots. With Fab, SU could’ve gone big with Rakeem even with the whistle party that Saturday’s game was and done a little better on the boards. With all that said, had SU had the same refs that officiated the Kansas v. UNC game, we are talking about SU in the final four this week. A friend of mine talked with an OSU alum who conceded that the refs determined the outcome of the game. Disgraceful. John Higgins should be fired yesterday.

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