|Jim Boeheim's path to a second national title got tougher without Fab Melo ruled ineligible. (US Presswire)|
The timing couldn't be worse -- or more puzzling -- for the announcement that came down Tuesday afternoon in which Syracuse sophomore big man Fab Melo will miss the entire NCAA tournament because of an eligibility issue.
Sources told CBSSports.com that the recent ruling is related to the three-game suspension that Melo was hit with in the middle of the season due to academics.
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"The NCAA went back and looked at his schoolwork," one source told CBSSports.com. "They are looking into the fact that he didn't do some of the work."
And they made the decision now, on March 13.
The NCAA tournament begins Tuesday night with the First Four. 'Cuse opens up in 48 hours or so against UNC-Asheville in Pittsburgh. It won't matter against Eddie Biedenbach's club, but this changes everything for Jim Boeheim and the Orange. Melo averaged 7.8 points and led the team with 5.8 rebounds per game, hardly eye-popping numbers. But he was the rock in the middle of the dreaded 2-3 zone and the Big East Defensive Player of the Year. He had also become a legitimate threat on the offensive end of the floor.
Melo reportedly is expected to make himself eligible for the NBA Draft, which would be no surprise because sources told CBSSports.com before the season that this campaign would be Melo's last for the Orange.
Now freshman Rakeem Christmas will take his place and likely receive extended minutes -- as was the case for three games back in late-January and early-February when Melo was suspended by the school for an academic issue.
This suspension is the latest off-court issue to hit the Syracuse program this season. It started back in November when assistant Bernie Fine was accused of molesting a former ball boy. Melo was suspended in the middle of the season and recently Yahoo! Sports reported that the program has covered up failed drug tests from ex-players.
Now comes the news that Melo is done.
The top-seeded Orange aren't the same team without him. I'd like a bracket do-over, please -- and I'm not alone. This 'Cuse team could easily go down early now, maybe in its second game against Kansas State or in the Sweet 16 against a Vanderbilt team that just got done taking care of Kentucky in the SEC tournament championship contest.
The 7-foot Brazilian was a non-factor a year ago, but had made strides from his freshman season -- with his body and on both ends of the court. In his last game, a loss to Cincinnati Friday in the Big East quarterfinals, Melo finished with 11 points and eight rebounds.
Now there's a hole in the middle of the Syracuse zone -- and more off-court drama for this team to overcome.