The Syracuse Orange lost to Cincinnati in -at least accordingly to the numbers- an evenly fought, blow for blow contest in the semi-finals of the Big East Tournament. This scares the Otto out of me.
Writer’s note: That was my lead before I got about 10 billion texts and emails notifying me of the news of the day. In case you haven’t heard, Syracuse is playing the NCAA Tournament without it’s defensive anchor, all seven feet of him.
Before Fab Melo was ruled ineligible, this column was going to ask the question, why is the Orange playing down to the competition? Champions should blow out inferior opponents. Yes, the Orange “find ways to win.” That’s been the theme of this year’s team as we’ve continually written, spoken, and tweeted about the Orange’s ability to use their depth to “find ways to win.”
From there I had a plethora of statistical research to elaborate this point leading to a conclusion that “finding a way” certainly prepares a team for the close battles bound to be fought in the field of 64; but the concern is why the Orange allows itself to get into these situations. A consistent failure to run away with leads or to maintain them is a constant concern for a let-down, as is allowing itself to fall too far behind on the other side of the spectrum.
This was going to be a devil’s advocate kind of column – questioning the Orange’s Championship pedigree. It’s a shame you won’t read it because I thought it made some good points.
But none of it matters anymore. The entire scope of the NCAA Tournament and specifically the destiny of the 2012 Syracuse Orange has been altered and I’m almost at a loss for words.
I’ve already written about how much the Orange offense sputtered without Fab Melo, and The Dag Bag covered the defensive shortcomings. 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.
I relentlessly challenge Jim Boeheim’s squad to be better. In print, I have been known to pick on the shortcomings and question if they have what it takes. Yet, this never stopped me from believing as a fan. This was the first year ever that I actually picked the Orange to win the tournament in my brackets. I did this as a basketball writer, not as a Syracuse alum and proud fan.
Now the writer has to change it, and the fan is depressed.
I’d much rather be poking holes in a championship bubble, versus trying to blow one up without enough air.
After everything the University, the fans, and the team have been through this year, this is the worst possible ending. Ever. A loss, in and of itself, would be hard enough to accept with a fully intact unit; but, being forced to play without Melo just feels wrong. It feels like we are being cheated…cheated out of the realistic hope of a National Title.
Can the Orange still win? Of course. Anything is possible. But I ask you to tell me honestly if you think they can without Fab Melo?