As I'm sure you've noticed, whatever goodwill was left amongst those who thought SU could make it to the Final Four is evaporating. And with good reason. The Orange relied on Melo all season to define the paint. Rebounding was a big deal but Fab did so much more. He blocked shots. He drew charges. He changed every play that came his way. Sure he was good for a goaltend or two every night but in a way even that way fine because it meant Fab Melo was super-aggressive and intent on making sure you didn't score.
Without him, we saw how lost the Orange looked in the loss to Notre Dame and how they almost gave the next game away to Cincinnati as well. Is that what we're in for on Thursday and Saturday?
Well first of all, let's be clear. We're still going to win on Thursday. It's UNC-Asheville, you guys. They don't have a player over 6'5". They don't gain some massive advantage by now having a big man that can dominate the paint. It just means we have to work a little harder and dictate the pace.
Beyond that game, however, things look dicey. Kansas State is a big rebounding squad and Vanderbilt & Wisconsin present match-up issues galore. Not to say anything of Jared Sullinger and Ohio State if we both make it that far.
So what does Syracuse need to do right now in order to maintain it's status as the one seed and keep winning basketball games?
Give In To The Gottlieb - When he's done spouting rhetoric in a smug fashion, Gottlieb's big issue with Syracuse is that we don't play fast enough. If it were up to him, we'd play 40 Minutes of Hell like the Arkansas Razorbacks did in the 90's. We'd press all day and fast break all night. And you know what, we might not have a choice now. More than ever, the Orange need to dictate the pace of the game. We all know what happens when we let the other team slow it down. We lose our offensive edge and give the opponent way too many opportunities due to our rebounding deficiencies. Make other teams play our tempo and I guarantee no one can keep up with Dion Waiters et al.
Don't Plug & Play - The one, strange benefit we have at the moment is that we have experience dealing with this EXACT issue. Being the No. 1 seed and losing your star center for the NCAA Tournament without a capable back-up able to step in and recreate the same stats. It won't do us much good to ask Rakeem Christmas or Stone Hands Keita to play 25-30 minutes and try to get 10 points, 7 rebounds, 3 blocks and 2 drawn charges. It's not gonna happen. Instead, shift C.J. Fair over (Fair has almost as many rebounds per game as Fab anyway) and speed things up. The great news about SU is that our depth means we have seven starters on our roster (six, now). So, more minutes for C.J., more minutes for MC-Dubz and more minutes for James Southerland. Speaking of...
Consistency, Fellas - Our depth masks the fact that we have a roster full of inconsistent talent. Kris Joseph scored 18 one night and 6 the next. James Southerland sparks off the bench for 10 points and then goes 0-for-4 from downtown in the next game. Triche, Dion, Scoop (MY GOD SCOOP) and the rest of them have all been so streaky and so here-today-gone-tomorrow. That HAS TO end right now. Inconsistency will kill the Orange once for all as the margin for error is nil.
As we back away from the Fab news, I'm starting to remember how talented the rest of this team is and I'm feeling a little better. The issue is going to be whether or not they put together a full game as a cohesive unit. A Scoop "zero points but I was really cheering hard for Dion" game isn't gonna cut it.
We have more talent than Kansas State. We have more talent than Vanderbilt and Wisconsin. We can still win those games. Maybe we won't emulate 40 Minutes of Hell specifically, but that's exactly the kind of effort it's going to take. Luckily, we have the talent to make it happen.