Syracuse Center Fab Melo Ineligible For Entire NCAA Tournament

LOUISVILLE, KY - FEBRUARY 13: Fab Melo #51 of the Syracuse Orange dunks the ball during the Big East Conference game against the Louisville Cardinals at KFC YUM! Center on February 13, 2012 in Louisville, Kentucky. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Syracuse's national title hopes took a major hit on Tuesday when it was announced that Big East Defensive Player of the Year Fab Melo will miss the NCAA Tournament because of an eligibility issue.

Syracuse center Fab Melo did not travel with the team to Pittsburgh and will not participate in the NCAA Tournament because of an eligibility issue, the university announced Tuesday.

Melo, the starting center for the Orange, had been averaging 7.8 points and 5.8 rebounds per game. His presence was felt more on the defensive end, however, where he was averaging 2.9 blocks. He was named the Big East Defensive Player of the Year before the start of the conference tournament last week.

Melo was also held out of action for three games during the middle of the season due to an unspecified academic concern. He was reinstated on Feb. 2 and school did not provide further details about the issue, citing university policy and federal student privacy laws. The school cited the same policy and laws when refraining from providing further details about Melo's situation on Tuesday.

With Melo sidelined, Syracuse suffered its first and only loss of the regular season in a 67-58 defeat at Notre Dame on Jan. 21. The Orange then defeated Cincinnati 60-53 and West Virginia 63-61 before Melo returned.

The loss of Melo is an enormous blow to Syracuse's national championship hopes. The Orange were already a below average rebounding team, and the 7-0 Melo was their leader in that department. Sophomore forward C.J. Fair, who generally comes off the bench, is the only other member of the team averaging more than five boards a night.

A potential second round matchup against a Kansas State team whose strength is offensive rebounding now seems far more dangerous than it did this morning.

Syracuse, the No. 1 seed in the East, begins NCAA Tournament play on Thursday against UNC-Asheville.

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