Very little is known about why exactly Syracuse center Fab Melo was officially ruled ineligible for the 2012 NCAA tournament on Tuesday, and when Coach Jim Boeheim faced reporters Wednesday in Pittsburgh ahead of the Orange’s first-round matchup with UNC-Asheville, he chose to keep it that way.
Boeheim was bombarded with questions about Melo according to the Syracuse Post-Standard, but like he has throughout this season of turmoil, he mostly tried to keep the focus on the court.
“I’m just dealing with this team,” he said. “I’m not dealing with anything else.”
About the only details Boeheim would provide was that Melo “didn’t let anybody down. I don't believe that to be true.”
“I feel bad for him,” the coach added. “I feel bad for the rest of the players on the team.”
Melo’s ineligibility is just another controversy for a program that has dealt with off-court problems all season. Whether it was an alleged sex scandal involving former assistant Bernie Fine back in November or a report two weeks ago that former players had remained eligible despite failing drug tests, Syracuse has been confronted with distractions that make its one-loss regular season record even more remarkable.
The Orange still managed to earn a No. 1 seed in this year’s NCAA tournament. How far they can advance, though, remains a big question despite a rotation many observers consider the deepest in the country.
Melo was named the Big East defensive player of the year and was the team’s leading rebounder. Boeheim said Wednesday, “I have not seen a bigger improvement from a player that I've coached in one year.”
“That’s a huge loss for them,” UNC-Asheville Coach Eddie Biedenbach told the Asheville Citizen Times. “It gives us a better chance to win, but we have to take advantage of his absence.”
To some in Pittsburgh, though, no Melo was no big deal. Southern Miss Coach Larry Eustachy, whose team could face the Orange if it beats Kansas State on Thursday, took Boeheim’s approach and didn’t address the situation directly when asked about Melo. Instead, he cracked a joke.
"I don't know who he is. . . . I don't watch college basketball. I watch ‘Law & Order,’ ” he said.
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