Losing a starting center on the eve of the NCAA Tournament is a big blow for any basketball team. It’s magnified when that player is 7-foot and is the Big East Defensive Player of the Year for top-seeded Syracuse.
But Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim is prepared to make due without shot-block specialist Fab Melo, who was ruled ineligible by the university on Tuesday.
Melo was 12th nationally and second in the Big East with 2.9 blocks per game. He also ranked third in the conference in field goal percentage and was leading Syracuse with 5.8 rebounds per game.
“I have not seen a bigger improvement from a player that I’ve ever coached in one year, and a guy I respect a lot who I think works as hard as he can work everyday who I think is a great kid,” Boeheim said. “I feel bad for him. I feel bad for the rest of the players on the team because you don’t want to lose a teammate in this situation at this time.”
Melo’s potential replacements include 6-9 freshman Rakeem Christmas and 6-10 sophomore Baye Keita. Christmas hasn’t logged 10 minutes in a game for nine consecutive games, and Keita has played 10 minutes just once in the past six games.
“The advantage we do have is that we have nine guys that have played a lot this year,” Boeheim said. “We’re not replacing a position with somebody who has not been a contributor. Both Baye and Rakeem have played a lot; they’ve been in virtually every game.”
Christmas average 2.5 points and 2.6 rebounds during the season. Keita averaged 2.2 points and 2.3 rebounds.
– By Joe Rutter