Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim said that he “felt bad” for center Fab Melo, who was deemed ineligible for the NCAA tournament.
Melo didn’t travel with the team to Pittsburgh, where SU will take on UNC-Asheville in the second round of the NCAA tournament on Thursday. Boeheim said that the team found out the news on Tuesday.
“I feel bad for him and I feel bad for this team,” Boeheim said. “It’s obviously very disappointing.”
Melo missed three games earlier this season due to what sources told The Juice Online was an academic issue. The Orange went 2-1 in those games.
The sophomore was named Big East Defensive Player of the Year after averaging 7.8 points and 5.8 rebounds per game. He also led the Big East with 88 blocks.
“It’s a very difficult thing to go through,” Boeheim said. “He did everthing he had to go to get on the court, and for him not to be able to play (in the NCAA Tournament) is very disappointing.”
In his place, the Orange will likely start freshman Rakeem Christmas at center.
“He’ll be ready,” guard Scoop Jardine said. “He’s learned from his mistakes. He had a short leash earlier in the season. I took him aside and said you’ve played basketball all your life, now’s your time.”
But SU’s success depends on more than just those two players.
“These guys didn’t do it with one player,” Boeheim said. “I think they’ll be ready to play.”
Boeheim also said that while Syracuse would start in a traditional lineup, he wouldn’t rule out playing three guards in the lineup.
The Orange will also need more from its two seniors, Jardine and forward Kris Joseph.
In his last three games, Jardine has combined for 3-for-13 shooting for 8 points. He also has more turnovers (8) than assists (6). Joseph has also struggled, shooting 7-for-23 from the field and 4-for-13 from downtown, while averaging just 10 points a game.
“Our teammates look to us,” Jardine said. “We still believe in ourselves. We believe we’re capable of winning the national championship.”
Jardine also said that the team will continue to block out distractions.
“We don’t pay it no mind,” Jardine said. “We go to class and play basketball.”
For Syracuse, the mantra has been focusing on the immediate challenge ahead.
“I’m just dealing with this team,” Boeheim said. “I’m not dealing with anything else.”
Brad Bierman contributed to this story with reporting from Pittsburgh.