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Syracuse confident without Melo

PITTSBURGH — There will be a different look to Syracuse's famed 2-3 zone when the Orange take the court today against North Carolina-Asheville in the second round of the East Region of the NCAA Tournament.

Fab Melo, the 7-foot sophomore who was selected Big East defensive player of the year, won't be in the middle of the back line. He was declared ineligible by the school for academic reasons.

"I think this is not going to stop our train from moving," sophomore F C.J. Fair said Wednesday. "Of course Fab is a beast, but we've got guys that can go out there and play and keep winning."

Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim repeated over and over that he can't talk about why Melo was declared ineligible, citing privacy issues.

Melo missed three games in January for the same reason. The Orange (31-2) had a season-opening 20-game winning streak snapped by a loss at Notre Dame in the middle of those games.

Boeheim said he felt bad for Melo, who averaged 7.7 points and 5.8 rebounds and blocked 88 shots, the same number North Carolina-Asheville's whole team did this season.

"I feel bad for the rest of the players on the team, because you don't want to lose a teammate in this situation at this time," Boeheim said. "Yeah, it's a very difficult thing to go through. He's a kid that's come, in my opinion, just an unbelievable way in a relatively short period of time."

Boeheim also took issue with the notion that Melo — who apologized to his teammates Tuesday before they left, according to several players — had abandoned the Orange.

"I will say he didn't let anybody down, in my opinion, all right?" Boeheim said. "I know that's out there. I don't believe that to be true."

Now the Orange, which entered the tournament No. 2 in the AP poll, must find a way to win six games without him if they are to win the school's second national championship.

"We lost one without him; we lost one with him," Dion Waiters, the Big East's sixth man of the year, said of Melo. "He'll be truly missed, but we've just got to be ready to go when the ball gets tipped in the air."

Now, North Carolina-Asheville is a 16th seed with a better chance than it had two days earlier of becoming the first to beat a No. 1 seed.

"We want to make a name for UNC-Asheville," said Matt Dickey, the Big South player of the year. "This is the opportunity to do it."

PEYTON'S PLACE: Louisville's Peyton Siva was about the only member of the team who was hoping for a cross-country trip when the NCAA Tournament field was revealed.

Siva got his wish when the fourth-seeded Cardinals were sent to Portland, Ore., for a second-round game against 13th-seeded Davidson. Not a bad way for the Seattle native to potentially finish out his junior season at Louisville.

"Nobody really wanted to come to Portland, you know. It really didn't matter to me. If we came to Portland, I have a lot of my family members can come," Siva said. "It's great to come back to the Northwest, and it feels good."

49ERS GUARD IFFY: The status of injured Long Beach State G Larry Anderson remained unclear on the eve of the 49ers' NCAA Tournament game against New Mexico. Anderson has a strained knee and missed LBSU's run to the Big West tournament title. The 6-5 senior averages 14.3 points and 6.3 rebounds and was named the Big West defensive player of the year.

PRESIDENT'S PICK: President Barack Obama likes North Carolina's chances of winning the NCAA title. Obama picked the Tar Heels to win it all in his NCAA bracket, beating Kentucky in the title game. Ohio State and Missouri rounded out the president's Final Four.

GUESTS IN the BOOTH: St. John's coach Steve Lavin and Villanova coach Jay Wright will serve as guest studio analysts for NCAA Tournament coverage this week. CBS and Turner Sports said Wright would join the Atlanta studio today and Friday. Lavin will be in the New York studio Saturday and Sunday.

Syracuse confident without Melo 03/14/12 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 14, 2012 11:25pm]
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