When Fab Melo was benched due to academic issues, we all thought the Syracuse Orange defense would take a hit. The offense, however, should have been fine with the number of weapons in Coach Jim Boeheim’s arsenal. As a result, it comes as a complete shock that in the three games without its starting center, the offense has completely crumbled.
Last week my colleague did a great job breaking down the impact of losing Fab Melo. I too, would have concluded that: “With a 10-man rotation, you don’t lose your depth because your fifth-best player isn’t in the lineup. So the biggest strength of this year’s team was still intact — perhaps with a bit of a flesh wound.” Yet, as we look at the three-game sampling, it’s clear the Orange have a surgical hole on offense.
Before Melo went out, the Orange averaged 80 points per game, good for 15th in the nation. In the three games since, the team has mustered a measly 60.33 per game. Who would have thought Fab Melo, averaging just over seven points per contest, meant 20 points per game in the box score?
In fact, in its first game without the sophomore center, the Orange failed to reach 60 points for the first time all season—and failed to reach 70 for the first the time in 11 games. Through the first 20 games Syracuse failed to hit 70 only three times, twice reaching 69. The squad hasn’t topped 63 in the three games without him.
One reasonable explanation for the lack of offense would be a lesser defensive presence resulting in fewer turnovers, and therefore, fewer points in transition. If you look at the numbers, the Orange is averaging almost three fewer blocks, five fewer turnovers, two fewer steals, and grabs 10 fewer rebounds without Melo in the line-up. Yet amazingly, the Orange gives up almost exactly the same amount of points per game without him as it does with him – 60.33 to 60.35.
So while the defense has in fact struggled statistically without Melo, the Orange hasn’t seen a spike in production from its opponents. In fact, Syracuse is giving up over two fewer offensive rebounds to the opposition, despite its own defensive rebounding numbers dwindling without the big man. These numbers illustrate a slower flow to the game overall, with a great deal fewer possessions and shots for both teams.
Before Melo went out, the Orange played in games averaging 117 shots per contest. In the past three games, a combined average of 105 shots went up, with Syracuse taking over eight fewer per outing. This is precisely where the Orange offense misses Melo the most—on the offensive glass.
Before Melo went out, Syracuse averaged 13.75 offensive rebounds per game. Without him, it is down to just 7.67 per contest. Without Fab crashing the boards (he averages 2.68 offensive rebounds per game) opposing big men have had much more success blocking out the entire Syracuse front line. Even if one takes into account the slower flow and fewer shots, a reasonable assumption is that the Orange miss out on at least four more offensive opportunities per game due to Melo’s absence.
When Syracuse is whole and has its 7-footer in the game, both teams play at an increased pace, which clearly favors the Orange. His presence allows the guards to extend their pressure and force opposing teams into quick turnovers and forced shots. Without him, teams have been able to slow down their offense and as a result, take away offensive opportunities for the Orange. With fewer chances for transition points, the Orange scorers have had to rely on low percentage outside jumpers, ultimately putting fewer points on the scoreboard.
Melo’s absence has proven the old saying that “the best offense is a great defense,” and the Syracuse Orange clearly needs Melo on both sides of the ball to produce at the level it was just a few games ago.