The similarities are striking.
Two years ago, No. 1 seed Syracuse entered the NCAA tournament with high aspirations. But they did so without their starting center, Arinze Onuaku, who suffered a knee injury against Georgetown in the Big East tournament.
That team ended up being ousted in the Sweet 16 by eventual NCAA runner up Butler.
As the Syracuse players and coaches spoke during their media session on Wednesday afternoon, the parallels were obvious.
This year’s Orange—the top seed in the East region—is without starting center Fab Melo, who was deemed ineligible, and will not play in the NCAA tournament.
“It’s similar,” forward Kris Joseph said. “They’re both our bigs are absent now for the start of the NCAA tournament.”
But there are plenty of differences, as well.
“We went without Fab this year already,” Joseph said. “We never went without Arinze that here in 2010. It changed the whole dynamic of our team.
“This year, since we’ve been a part of it, since we’ve done it before, it’s something that we’ve seen and we’re used to, so we’ll be okay.”
Melo missed three games earlier in the season with what sources told The Juice Online was an academic issue. The Orange went 2-1 in his absence, including a 67-58 loss to Notre Dame.
In some ways, Onuaku’s absence in 2010 has helped the current Orange team.
“2010 season prepared us for now,” guard Scoop Jardine said. “Me and Kris was a part of that. We know what we have to do, how we have to play to move forward in this tournament.”
But no amount of preparation can make up for Melo, who was the Big East’s Defensive Player of the Year after recording 88 blocks.
“He’s one of the best shot blockers in the country,” Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said. “You’re going to miss a guy like that. Nobody has anybody quite like him.
“He’s a tremendous physical presence. Everybody else is going to have to play better defense. And the guys that are in there are going to have to do the best that they can do to replace him.”
Brad Bierman contributed to this article with reporting from Pittsburgh.
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