Each Monday during the summer, The Juice Online will be looking back to some of the biggest storylines in the 2011-12 Syracuse sports year. This week, we take a look back at Fab Melo’s eligibility issues during the season.
Fab Melo, the Big East’s Defensive Player of the Year, missed seven games in the 2011-12 season due to academic and ineligibility issues, crippling Syracuse’s chances of returning to the Final Four for the first time since 2003.
Melo missed three games in late January/early February because of an academic issue, first reported by The Juice Online. Syracuse lost its first game of the season in his absence, a 67-58 to Notre Dame.
Syracuse would win the rest of its regular season games with Melo back in the lineup before losing to Cincinnati in the Big East tournament.
But before Syracuse left for Pittsburgh to play UNC-Asheville in the first round of the NCAA tournament, Melo was deemed ineligible, and didn’t play any of the team’s four games.
His absence was most noticeable in Syracuse’s Elite 8 matchup against Ohio State. Without Melo guarding him, center Jared Sullinger scored 19 points and added seven rebounds as the Buckeyes ousted the Orange from the tournament with a 77-70 win.
On the year, Melo averaged 7.8 points and 5.8 rebounds, while recording 88 blocked shots. At the end of the season, he decided to forgo his final two years of eligibility and enter the NBA draft. He was taken by the Boston Celtics in the first round of the NBA draft.
WHAT WE SAID
During Melo’s three-game suspension, CJ Fair stepped into the starting lineup. Rakeem Christmas slid over from power forward to center. Dion Waiters struggled to find his rhythm on offense. These changes and others that occurred sans-Melo will ultimately help the Orange on its quest for a national title. The biggest benefit the Orange received without Melo in the lineup was the experience Christmas and Baye Keita gained. Playing a combined 15.7 minutes per game more than they averaged with Melo playing, Christmas and Keita struggled at times, but they also displayed flashes of promise for the future. — Jeff Irvine
The bottom line is, Syracuse is not a National Championship team without Fab Melo. Who is going to play center? Baye Keita is a serviceable back-up in limited minutes, while Rakeem Christmas is an overmatched freshman who hasn’t played meaningful minutes since 2011, and CJ Fair was treated like a ragdoll in the Big East Tournament by more physical big men. — Matt Goodman
WHAT THEY SAID
A team outrebounded on the season doesn’t want to lose its biggest man. In Big East regular-season play, opponents averaged 3.4 more offensive rebounds a game than Syracuse. Melo missed the Orange’s lone regular-season loss, to Notre Dame, and the Irish won the battle of the boards 38-25. No, Syracuse isn’t done. Not by any means. If this was going to happen to one of Boeheim’s teams, it might as well be this one – perhaps his deepest ever. Rakeem Christmas and Baye Moussa Keita are the likely fill-ins and both are capable, if lightly experienced. – Dan Wetzel, Yahoo! Sports
Syracuse has faced considerable controversy and distractions this season and has brushed all of it aside. Fab Melo’s absence, coming at the worst possible time, is one the Orange cannot ignore. — Dana O’Neil, ESPNWesley Cheng