Big News About Bigs
Wednesday morning belonged to football with National Signing Day running full bore through the lunch hour, but it was two very important pieces of basketball news that took the evening by storm. Let’s get right down to it.
Around 7:00, Mike Waters reported that Fab Melo would suit up for Saturday’s game against St. John’s. All week, there have been rumblings about a return sooner rather than later, but while the school has yet to confirm the report, they also haven’t shot it down. I have a ton of respect for Waters as a reporter and highly doubt he would have run with the report if he wasn’t confident in his sources. Additionally, other media close to the team haven’t sent any vibes that give me pause, so the vast majority of the reports that are out there seem to reinforce each other.
Melo’s absence sent the team scrambling for contributors in the middle of the zone, and it was nearly impossible to see a liability opening up. While Rakeem Christmas and Baye Keita each stepped up in their own way with Melo out of the picture (Christmas against Cincinnati and Keita against the Mountaineers), they impersonated Melo about as well as tofu fills in for real meat. The ability to consistently alter shots, pick and roll, draw charges and to a lesser extent, be really goofy and amusing on Twitter, just wasn’t there. Now, St. John’s isn’t exactly an opponent that demands Melo’s availability, but it is away from the Dome and it will be nice for him to have a game where he can regain his bearings before the juiciest parts of the schedule kick in. While I wasn’t concerned that his time away from games would be extended, it’s still a relief to know he’ll be back in the mix. We can all breathe a little easier.
Then, around 11:00, word got out that Nerlens Noel, the top player in the class of 2013, will reclassify to 2012 and play at the college level next season. If you aren’t familiar with Noel, he is a 6’10” center who blocks shots unlike anyone currently in the high school or college level. After the new of his reclassification broke, experts are debating between him and Shabazz Muhammad for the top overall spot in the class of 2012.
Syracuse and Kentucky have long been the leaders for his services, with schools like Georgetown, Providence and Kansas on the periphery, but getting a handle on where Noel would fit with Syracuse’s plans is initially a challenge. Assuming no defections (though that may be a lofty assumption), Melo, Christmas and Keita will still be around, and the Orange already have another big in DaJuan Coleman on the way. Things are pretty crowded up front as is. However, based on what many national writers who are more familiar with Noel are saying, he profiles as a better version of Anthony Davis with a rapidly-developing offensive game. In other words, he’s the kind of guy you make room for if he’s interested in playing for you, regardless of what your current depth chart suggests. I know there have been plenty of lean, defense-first bigs to come through Syracuse over the last five years, but Noel is head and shoulders above the likes of Kristof Ongenaet, Baye Keita and Rakeem Christmas.
Regarding the perceived logjam down low, while it will remain a concern on some level, I don’t think the Orange would be considered 1 or 1a for Noel’s commitment if the staff didn’t think it could make it work. It’ll be a lot of fun seeing how Noel’s recruitment goes from here – partially because he’s viewed as a very special player, but also because SU will still be in a good place even if the staff doesn’t land him. It’s the ultimate no-risk, high-reward recruiting story from a fan’s perspective. Noel is already set to visit Syracuse for the Orange’s game against UConn, which is suddenly just nine days away, so things could pick up in a hurry.
As the midpoint of an arduous stretch between games, Wednesday was an excellent time for some exciting news to break about the back of the zone.