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Is Syracuse destined for NCAA Tournament failure without Fab Melo?

Very few teams in the 2012 NCAA Tournament had a better shot at cutting down the nets in April than Syracuse. In the course of a single day, the Orange have become a long shot to advance even to the Sweet 16. Syracuse announced on Tuesday that sophomore center Fab Melo will not participate in the tournament due to an “eligibility issue.” As far as setbacks go, that’s about as big as it gets for Jim Boeheim and company.

According to ESPN.com, Melo’s ineligibility is a result of an academic issue related to the one he had earlier this season. Melo was cleared to play after missing three games in January, but the NCAA has since revisited the issue and once again deemed him ineligible.

One of Syracuse’s two losses this season came against Notre Dame, with Melo watching from the bench. That was hardly a coincidence, as he is the anchor of a zone defense that has carried the Orange to a No. 1 seed in the tournament and made them a championship contender. After a lackluster freshman season, Melo was arguably the nation’s most-improved player as a sophomore this year, when he averaged 7.8 points, 5.8 rebounds, and nearly three blocks per game.

Syracuse’s biggest concern heading into The Dance is rebounding, an area in which they rank 125th in the nation. Losing their 7-foot center could result in teams dominating the Orange on the glass — even 16th-seeded UNC-Asheville. Could this be the first time in tournament history a No. 16 seed knocks off a No. 1 seed? Probably not, but the stars are certainly aligned perfectly for it to happen.


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