Syracuse and Coach Jim Boeheim have dealt with off-court distractions all season long, but none directly affected the Orange’s chances of winning a national championship. That changed Tuesday.
Center Fab Melo will not play in the NCAA tournament because of what the university said was an eligibility issue. Citing university policy and federal student privacy laws, the school declined to provide any details other than that Melo did not make the trip to Pittsburgh for the Orange’s second-round game against No. 16 seed North Carolina-Asheville on Thursday afternoon.
But this isn’t the first time Melo has dealt with eligibility issues during his sophomore season. He missed three games in January, including Syracuse’s only regular-season loss of the year to Notre Dame, becauseof an unspecified academic issue.
Melo, who is from Brazil, had a disappointing freshman season but returned to campus this year in better shape. He averaged 7.8 points, 5.8 rebounds and 2.9 blocks per game, and was named the Big East defensive player of the year. A linchpin in Coach Jim Boeheim's celebrated 2-3 zone defense, Melo started at center in every game in which he played.
This is the latest round of bad press for the Syracuse men's basketball program, which has already had to navigate past questions about an alleged sexual abuse scandal involving former assistant Bernie Fine and a report two weeks ago that former players had remained eligible despite failing drug tests. Through it all, the Orange put together a remarkable regular season and earned one of the four No. 1 seeds in the tournament.
Melo's absence will make it much more difficult for Syracuse to make a run to the Final Four for the first time since another Melo, Carmelo Anthony, led the school to its only national championship in 2003.