With Melo, SU is a #1 seed and a threat to win it all. Without him, they are still very good — I’d say still a top-20 caliber team — but no longer elite. I look at them now as basically a 4-seed. Assuming the unthinkable fails to happen tomorrow afternoon, they should still be favored in their
second third round game, but folks would not be surprised if they lost it. If they do make it through to the Sweet Sixteen, everything beyond that is completely up in the air. They still will have a decent chance to win a game but it will be much less probable than it seemed 48 hours ago. Matchups will be part of the equation, and with some luck — maybe cashing in some karma chips; lord knows the team deserves a couple positive breaks after all that’s gone on this season — they still have a shot at making the Final Four. I really do believe that it’s possible.
What makes it highly unlikely, though, is that all this is predicated on the rest of the team bringing their “A” games. Everyone not named Dion (or Fab) had a pretty dreadful Big East Tournament. Can they get it turned back on this weekend? I don’t buy the excuse that guys played badly in NYC because the games ‘didn’t matter’ and so they weren’t as focused. Word is that some sort of fever was going around the team which sapped some of their energy. OK, fine. Drink some Airborne and pop some Zithromax because we need everyone in top shape. Think back to 2010. Even without Onuaku, SU plowed through the first two rounds relatively smoothly. But then they turned the ball over 18 times against Butler. (And even so, were just a couple clutch plays from winning that game anyway.) This team has not been as consistent as the 2010 team — strange to say, given the gaudy record, but it’s true. None of the players of the 2012 edition shows up every night. They’ve all gone through stretches of poor play. That must end starting tomorrow. They certainly won’t be able to win too many games if they continue to get subpar performances from key guys. The defense won’t be as sturdy without Fab, so they won’t be able to count on shutting teams down for long stretches. The offense will have to carry more of the burden than it has been.
Bizarrely, I’ve been saying all along — contrary to what many others have proclaimed — that if this team lost in the Sweet Sixteen it would not be a ‘bust’ of a season. Because when you get to that point, your opponents are very good teams, and a very good team is capable of beating a great team once in a while when things go their way. My view is that you can’t disregard everything the team has accomplished should they happen to be upset on “one of those nights”. And now, even with Fab gone, I’m sitting here saying “They should make the Sweet Sixteen, but you can’t be confident of advancing beyond that” which is basically the exact same thing I said before. But now they are just one of several “very good teams” instead of a great team, and they may have to beat a great team in order to move on. They may have to be the one for whom everything goes right.
All this said, let me boil it down to the one most salient fact: I am NOT GIVING UP HOPE. As long as you’re in it, you have a chance to win it. Let’s go Orange.
PS. To all those who are ripping Fab as “selfish” for getting into whatever trouble has caused this suspension, shut your foodholes. (A) You don’t know what happened, and (B) you don’t think he wants to be out there playing? He’s getting a lot of vitriol and it’s all undeserved. Even if it comes out that he did something illegal or academically unethical, that’s his burden to bear. It’d be his poor choice. You may feel like he’s deprived you of the chance to root for a potential champion. Well you wouldn’t even have been within pissing distance of that chance in the first place if Fab wasn’t around, or if he hadn’t put in a ton of work over the summer to suddenly turn himself into a stud big man and probable NBA pick. Fab doesn’t owe you anything. Heck, nobody on the team owes you anything. Let it go and enjoy whatever ride the rest of the guys can come up with.