Melo makes immediate impact for Syracuse in his return

With the Super Bowl today in Indianapolis, this whole week has largely focused on one quarterback in particular: Peyton Manning. He’s not playing in the Super Bowl and he didn’t even suit up this season, and yet the focus was on his future with the Colts. In Syracuse circles it was Fab Melo’s future that has been the big question mark in recent weeks.

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So what else do these two athletes have in common? Well, during this year there have been a few columnists that have brought up the idea that perhaps Peyton Manning should be the MVP because his team went from going 10-6 last season with Manning to a league-worst 2-14 this year without him. It’s an absurd idea, and those that brought it up were certainly doing it just to garner attention, but Peyton’s absence clearly demonstrated just how important he was to the Colts. Similarly, Fab’s 3-game absence and subsequent return has shown just how valuable he is to the Orange. On a team with so much talent there has been a lively debate about who exactly is the Orange’s MVP and Melo’s name would definitely be in that discussion. But what appears obvious now is that he’s the player the Orange can least afford to lose.

Melo just makes everything better. Maybe it’s that goofy smile. Maybe it’s the positive energy he brings to the team. Or maybe we should just skip right to the obvious and look at the fact that he’s 7 feet tall and an absolute menace in the paint on both ends of the floor. It looked like the 3 games off had little effect on his game as he went 5-for-6 and scored a career-high 14 points while also adding a couple blocked shots and drawing a charge (of course).

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But what he does goes beyond his personal stats. He makes everyone better on both ends of the floor. On defense, he protects the paint and allows the zone to extend knowing that if a man drives through the first line of defense that he is there to block or alter shots. On offense, he runs the pick and roll much better than Baye Keita or Rakeem Christmas and has great hands for a man his size. He’s a huge target in the paint and he gets his points without many plays called in his direction.

Take a look at a few stats in the 3 games Melo was out compared to his most recent game back:

Obviously, this is an extremely small sample size and St. John’s isn’t exactly a rebounding machine (13th in the Big East in rebounding) but the Orange look like a dramatically different team with Fab on the court.

His return could not have come at a better time. Syracuse enters the toughest part of their schedule with 3 games in 6 days against Georgetown, Connecticut and Louisville. This is where the Orange’s depth can really come in handy and again, illustrates Melo’s value. Without him in the lineup against West Virginia, Christmas and Keita both got into foul trouble and Syracuse was forced to go small. The result was a huge rebounding disparity. Against St. John’s, that depth meant no one played over 30 minutes and that should mean the team will be well-rested to start this brutal stretch at home Wednesday against the Hoyas.