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Posted at 03:19 PM ET, 01/23/2012

Without Fab Melo, how vulnerable is Syracuse?

The Orange will be without leading rebounder Fab Melo (51) when they visit Cincinnati. (Chris Chambers - Getty Images)

Here are two of the biggest questions in college basketball this week: How good is Syracuse without sophomore center Fab Melo? And will it matter?

The Orange (20-1) suffered its first loss of the season Saturday at Notre Dame. Coach Jim Boeheim’s team had its worst shooting performance (34 percent) in two seasons. The Orange, of course, played without Melo, who will miss one more game for an undisclosed matter. Melo averages just 7.2 points per game on a team with tremendous depth. But he is the team’s best rebounder and shot blocker and the key to the Orange’s zone defense.

Melo is being held out because of an unresolved academic issue, according to ESPN’s Andy Katz.

So in its second game without Melo, here comes a dangerous Cincinnati team Monday night that has been on a roll since losing to Xavier in the Dec. 10 contest that was marred by the brawl between rivals. Coach Mick Cronin’s team has lost two games since then (St. John’s on Jan. 7 and at West Virginia on Saturday) by a combined five points. During their recent stretch of success, the Bearcats have won at Georgetown and Connecticut.

Syracuse's Fab Melo dunks against Providence during the second half of a college basketball game in Syracuse, N.Y. Syracuse won 78-55. (AP Photo/Kevin Rivoli) (Kevin Rivoli - AP)
Come March, the NCAA selection committee will certainly take into account that Syracuse was without a key piece of its team during these games. So assuming Melo returns at some point soon — there’s been nothing reported to suggest that he won’t be back soon — the committee will consider Syracuse when it is at full strength.

All that said, this game is certainly worth keeping an eye on Monday night because the Bearcats have emerged as a formidable team that has quickly risen in the Big East standings. Finishing the season on a hot streak in the Big East counts for something. Remember, the only thing that one of the teams that finished 9-9 in the league did last season was win the national title.

More college hoops from Washington Post Sports:

Early Lead: Is Florida State now the ACC’s best team?

Virginia Tech hopes win at UVa. is a sign of things to come

NCAA: Schedule and scores

By  |  03:19 PM ET, 01/23/2012

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