- Last Updated: 9:18 AM, March 22, 2012
- Posted: 1:34 AM, March 22, 2012
BOSTON — The first hint the Syracuse players weren’t nearly as concerned about losing center Fab Melo as the rest of Orange Nation for the NCAA tournament was dropped last Wednesday.
In their initial interview session after Syracuse declared its 7-foot center ineligible a day earlier, the players were asked when they first learned of the decision.
“This morning,” was the response.
No one noticed Tuesday night there happened to be a 7-foot void on the flight from Syracuse to the Steel City? I mean, it’s possible to overlook gritty 6-foot walk-on Griffin Hoffmann, but Melo? Really?
If the plane was missing one of the 7-foot doors over the wing, the Syracuse players wouldn’t have noticed? How do you miss a 7-foot man with a bad haircut, no less?
“Everyone was making such a big deal about it,’’ forward Kris Joseph told The Post on Saturday after the Orange overwhelmed Kansas State to advance to the Sweet 16.
“We lost one player,’’ continued Joseph. “You would think he averaged 30 points, 20 rebounds and 12 blocked shots. We appreciate what Melo did for us. But we’ve replaced him with two other guys we have faith in. No one guy was going to stop this team.’’
Nope. The keys to success for this Syracuse team, which faces Wisconsin tonight in a Sweet 16 game, are its depth, 2-3 zone defense, which fuels a wicked transition game, and the coaching genius of coach Jim Boeheim.
The Orange (33-2), the No. 1 seed in the East, will need to put points on the board against the fourth-seeded Badgers (26-9), who lead the nation in scoring defense, allowing a meager 52.9 points per game.
Syracuse needs more offense than defense tonight, which is what Jamaica’s “Big Game” James Southerland provides. It doesn’t need Mel-o, it need more-O.
“We just go out there and play basketball,’’ said guard Scoop Jardine, who has made that line his personal postseason mantra. “It’s tough losing Fab, don’t get me wrong, but we’ve got a lot of guys that work just as hard and with an opportunity can play just as well.
“For the most part, we try to go out there and stay together no matter what happens and who’s out on the court, and I think we’ve done it earlier in the year, and that’s what helped us to this point,’’ added Jardine. “Guys had to step up, and I think we’ve done it.’’
This is the Sweet 16. This is when every step is a giant step. Outlasting UNC-Asheville was expected. Overwhelming Kansas State was impressive.
But Wisconsin is another species, altogether. The Badgers are so meticulous on offense and so ruggedly tough in their man-to-man defense that some coaches would prefer a visit from the late Dr. Kevorkian rather than face Professor Bo Ryan.
Ryan is the author of three books and five videos, all of which could be entitled, Bo Ryan on Bo Ryan, but also talk a lot about the swing offense he runs. They are must reads for insomniacs.
The Badgers have a true star in point guard Jordan Taylor. They are not the best or most talented team in the tournament, but players who go to Madison do so to play in this selfless system.
No wonder Ryan sounded like a Syracuse player when asked about Melo’s loss.
“They have a system, and when you have a system and it’s been taught for so long and the guys get into that system and it’s passed on by the older players, whether you’re older by a year, by a month, by three years, the athleticism and depth that they have, it really to me doesn’t change how they play or the way they play,’’ he said. “So we only prepare for who’s there, not for who isn’t.’’
Wait, Melo isn’t here? He wasn’t there in Pittsburgh? No one noticed, especially those wearing the orange and white jerseys.Follow @NYPostsports