For East Region top seed Syracuse (31-2 ~ 17-1 in the Big East), who takes on No. 16 UNC-Ashville today (24-9 ~ 16-2 in the Big South) in the
first err second round of the NCAA Tournament, this will be the fourth game without their starting center Fab Melo, who missed three games early in January for academic issues. The game, played in CONSOL Energy Center, Pittsburgh, PA. will be televised by TruTV. But unlike that time for head coach Jim Boeheim and the rest of the team there will be no holding their breath until the seven footer is back on the court, since this time around he won’t be. This is the second time in three seasons that the Orange enter the NCAA Tournament as a top seed, as well as being the second time in three years that they will begin their journey without their starting center. In 2010 it was Arinze Onuaku, who did not play in the Big Dance after he injured his right quadriceps in the Big East Tournament. From what the coach said in an interview this was nothing that the team knew about until a short time ago…
In an interview on truTV on Wednesday night, Boeheim said, “It’s something that happened this week.”
The good thing for SU is that UNC-A loves to run and gun, which is something that the Orange have excelled at this season, and could help them forget about who is not going to be on the court for them. Another positive for Syracuse is that today’s opponents do not rebound well, grabbing just 34.7 per game (157th in the nation), compared to 35.3 per game (125th) by the Orange. And while the top seed will be missing their big man they will still be a bigger team that the 16th seed, which should allow Boeheim’s squad to keep the opposition from getting second chance points and begin the fast break off of most missed shots. On the other hand missing Melo is more about how the Orange will fare on the defensive side, and that means watching how the 2-3 zone functions with Rakeem Christmas and Baye Moussa Keita in the middle. The Bulldogs can hit the treys, without the big man in the middle how active and daring will the zone be for the Orange could be the difference between an easy win and one that will make both the coaches, the players and the fan base sweat.
Look for the two seniors, leading scorer Kris Joseph and point guard Scoop Jardine, to step it up for this game, as well for the rest of the tournament. With the first player being the “go to” guy while the latter being the one that is going to hold the team together, which is something that many fans have thought he can not do when it comes to crunch time. However, this is Jardine’s last chance to shine and I think he will do all he can to do so, the key might be that he does not push too much and force the issue, a flaw that he has been known to do. Other two names to look for in this tournament for the Orange are sophomore forward C.J. Fair, who is looking more and more as a player the team will rely on after 46 points in two games in the BE Tourney, and junior forward James Southerland, who will need to step it up with the absence of Melo. Each in their own way both of these 6’8″ forwards can truly help SU move deep into the tournament, and need to come out swinging if they want their team to be playing when the third weekend of this turney begins.
The Vegas insiders have Syracuse between 15 and 17 points favorite in this game. I would say that is about right, and would say that the Orange will take this game by the final of 76 to 61, with Joseph leading the way and at least three out of four of the above mentioned players scoring in double figures. ESPN’s AccuScore is giving the nod to the Orange by the final of 82.8 to 66.4, having SU winning close to 90% of the over 10,000 simulated match ups. Whether or not you believe that Syracuse still has a chance to go to New Orleans, you have to figure that the first round, where no top seed has ever been upset, should be a good game for this team who has had its share of turmoil this season. I look for SU to take out their frustrations in this game and that means nothing but trouble for the Bulldogs.