The question is not really how the loss of Fab Melo affected the game vs. Notre Dame, but instead what his situation means for the rest of the season. Syracuse.com tweeted Fab “could return this season.” Yahoo! Sports wrote “there’s no guarantee he’ll be back at all.” One would imagine SU wouldn’t prolong the pain if it knew Fab would have to miss the rest of the year. But could fear of NCAA repercussions force the university to hold him out indefinitely?
Syracuse surely didn’t look like the #1 team in the country Saturday night. The offense was stagnant. The defense was lethargic. The officials did the Orange no favors. A loss likely drops SU from the top slot in the country, but ultimately it hardly matters right now. No college team goes unbeaten the entire season, so a loss at some point was inevitable. A conference road game, on the heels of losing two players – one for the entire season, one for at least two games – in a place where #1’s seem to always stumble? Hey, it happens.
The departure of Mookie Jones, who tweeted that he would return next season, is yet another strange plot twist in a bizarre career on the Hill, but doesn’t effect much more than Jim Boeheim’s options at the end of blowouts. Fab’s punishment, however, is completely different. Melo’s presence in the paint has been a vital part of Syracuse’s ferocious defense. That efficiency on the defensive end has been as important as any reason for SU’s historic start.
Fab alter shots, cleans the glass, swats shots, and presents a constant matchup advantage for The Per’fesser’s 2-3 zone. His commitment to defense (and a more polished overall game) has been incredibly important for this team. You could make the argument (and Fizzster Andrew Kanell has tried) Fab and Dion are the two most indispensable Orange late in games.
If this is merely a two game academic suspension, hopefully it doesn’t wreck the momentum Melo has built this season. Let’s assume he returns to the lineup Saturday against West Virginia and resumes playing his role of monster in the middle. It could serve as a productive wake up call to a sophomore who’s still maturing, and isn’t far removed from other off the court drama.
But there’s always the terrifying alternative, which hung there like a blinking “bridge is out” sign. As deep, talented and veteran-laden as this team is, there’s not many disposable 7-footers that average 7 points/6 rebounds/3 blocks in the country. Irish center Jack Cooley went for 17 and 10. Here’s guessing his stat line would’ve been a little different had Fab been playing.
That one loss in Syracuse’s record is no big deal. There’s a quick chance for road redemption Monday at Cincinnati. It’s that one loss to the starting five that has Orange Nation worried right now.