He‚Äôs back! Fab Melo’s return to the court against St. John‚Äôs underscored just how different Syracuse is with him in the middle. Fab tallied 14 points and 3 rebounds in a 95-70 win after being¬†sidelined for academics issues for the last three games.¬†While the Orange went 2-1 in that span, the team did not look the same. Syracuse was pushed around down low, getting beat to loose balls and didn‚Äôt play nasty on the defensive end we are accustomed to seeing.
Fab’s addition means the Orange now begins the final month of the regular season with its best team together. SU no longer has the pressure of an undefeated season, and can begin its footrace to March. Melo‚Äôs¬†big presence in the paint¬†has been a vital part of Syracuse‚Äôs ferocious D. That efficiency on the defensive end has been as important as any reason for SU‚Äôs historic start. However, without the 7-footer controlling the paint the defense went from elite to mediocre.¬†The biggest reasons for the let down were lack of¬†lack of intimidation¬†and rebounding.
The Fab told The Fizz after the Villanova win in mid-January, ‚ÄúWe intimidate teams when we land in their city.‚Äù
Teams were not intimidated with Baye Moussa Keita or Rakeem Christmas down in the paint. Teams shied away from attacking SU down low when Fab was sitting there, ready to gobble up anything that came his way. West Virginia and Notre Dame thrived attacking the zone from the inside out, pounding the ball in paint then kicking it out for threes.
Syracuse beat St. John’s 38-25 on the glass. But SU got bullied on the boards in Fab‚Äôs absence. Boeheim admitted after the slim Mountaineers victory that rebounding had been a problem even with Fab in the lineup. It’s way worse without him. The Irish outrebounded the Orange 37-24, and WVU also went Mr. Clean on the glass snagging 36 rebounds (15 offensive) compared to only 20 for SU. Against Cincinnati, Syracuse won the battle of the boards by a measly one rebound. Without Melo in those three games, SU‚Äôs rebounding margin was minus 28.
The Brazilian big man also had arguably his best game of his freshman campaign against the Johnnies¬†posting at the time¬†a career-high 12 points, including two layups in the final 2 minutes to propel Syracuse to a win in the Big East tournament.¬†¬†After today‚Äôs rumble with the Red Storm SU sinks its teeth into the meaty part of the Big East schedule playing three straight games against rivals Georgetown, UConn and a Louisville team that has Cuse‚Äôs number of late. It is good to know the Orange is back at full strength.
Posted: Dave Van Moffaert