The top seeded Syracuse Orange will be missing a key component of what made them one of the most dynamic teams in college basketball this season as sophomore center Fab Melo was ruled ineligible for the NCAA tournament.
The university announced Tuesday that the 7-foot Brazilian did not travel with the team to Pittsburgh and won't take part in the NCAA tournament due to an eligibility issue. The school would not elaborate, though Melo missed three games during the season because of an academic issue.
It's a big blow for coach Jim Boeheim and his Orange, the top seed in the East. They play 16th-seeded UNC Asheville (24-9), the Big South champion, on Thursday afternoon.
Melo is more than just a flashy name on a team that has dominated opponents this season. He owns the hustle index for the team, and though he may only average 7.8 points per game, he also averages 5.8 rebounds and 2.9 blocks. He was going to be a key cog in any deep Orange postseason run.
In his place, Syracuse is likely to use sophomore Baye Keita and freshman Rakeem Christmas at center.
Melo had his coming-out party came in late December against Seton Hall. He had 12 points, seven rebounds and a school-record 10 blocks in a 75-49 win over the Pirates on Dec. 28. It was his first career double-double, and things took off from there.
Melo registered 88 blocks and earned Big East defensive player of the year honors, partly because he probably altered three shots for every block and forced opponents to take the types of shots they're not accustomed to taking. He also became adept at taking charges in the paint.
So, Syracuse will have to overcome ... again.
The Orange are used to that by now.
A 67-58 loss at Notre Dame on Jan. 21 was the first game played without Melo. But Syracuse persevered, and won 11 in a row from that point, finishing the regular season with a school-record 30 victories.
Last week, school officials said the university had more than a year ago self-reported possible violations of its internal drug policy by former members of the team and that the NCAA was investigating. None of the current members of the team was involved.
And that was the culmination of a season that began with the dismissal of associate head coach Bernie Fine after two former ball boys accused him of sexually molesting them in the 1980s. While charges have yet to be filed against Fine, he was fired in late November. Boeheim and the university also are facing a defamation suit filed by the ball boys — Bobby Davis and stepbrother Mike Lang. Through it all, the players have remained on an even keel, seemingly unfazed by anything. Time will tell if this new issue gets in their way during the season's most important time.
Based on reporting by The Associated Press.