Fab Melo

Sweet 16 Previews: Will Fab Melo’s absence matter vs. Wisconsin?


Ed Isaacson of NBADraftBlog.com contributed to this post.

Just eight short days ago, the course of the season for the Syracuse Orange completely changed.

For the second time in the span of two months, Fab Melo, the Big East’s Defensive Player of the Year and the rock that had anchored the Syracuse zone, was ruled ineligible due to the same academic issue. Without him, the thinking went, Syracuse not only didn’t have a chance of winning the national title, but their hopes of making a deep run into the NCAA tournament were severely hurt.

It would be difficult to understate just what Melo meant to the Syracuse zone. Luke Winn of SI.com did an exhaustive study of the Syracuse defense, and what he determined was that Melo was “simultaneously the Orange’s most obvious defensive force (by blocking shots) and its secret weapon (by taking charges and creating turnovers).”

I wrote this back when Melo was ruled ineligible*:

That’s really all you need to know about Melo’s presence in the paint. He not only blocks 2.9 shots per game, he forces opponents that he’s engaged with to shoot just 29.1% from the field without fouling (his defensive free throw rate is 37.7%). That doesn’t even mention the fact that he gathers steals and takes charges as well as any big man in the country. Melo is not a good rebounder outside of his area, which is a major problem for a team that struggles on the defensive glass, but his ability to end possessions via the turnover and the number of missed shots he forces make up for it.

(The stats came from Winn’s study linked above.)

But Melo’s absence didn’t stop No. 1 seed Syracuse from advancing to the Sweet 16 with wins over No. 16 UNC-Asheville (with an assist from the refs) and No. 8 Kansas State (with a hat-tip to the NCAA).

Syracuse gets No. 4 Wisconsin on Thursday night. On paper, the Badgers look like an ideal team to go up against a zone and exploit the absence of Melo. They have a playmaking point guard in Jordan Taylor, they have shooters all over their perimeter and they have skilled big men that can knock down that foul line jumper and pass from the high-post.

So would you be surprised if I were to tell you that Wisconsin actually struggles against a zone?

It’s true.

Kenpom.com rates Wisconsin as the 20th-most efficient team in the country on the offensive end of the floor. On the season, they are averaging 1.082 points-per-possession (PPP). Against a zone, however, that number falls to 0.960 PPP, which is a significant difference. Wisconsin averages 58.8 possessions per game, meaning that in an average game where the Badgers face a zone the entire 40 minutes, they lose 7.1 ppg.

Those struggles were evident against Vanderbilt in the round of 32. The Badgers had opened up a nine point lead with 6:07 left on the clock when Kevin Stallings threw on a 2-3 zone that completely flummoxed Bo Ryan’s team. Wisconsin would manage just seven points the rest of the game, but their struggles went deeper than that.

Wisconsin essentially had eight full shot clocks in the final six minutes. (Technically, they had six possessions, but they were able to grab a couple of offensive rebounds.) They managed eight shots from the floor, every single one of them a three-pointer. In fact, there were only two times in the final 6:07 where Wisconsin actually got the ball inside the three-point line without grabbing an offensive rebound, and they came on the same possession. Jordan Taylor passed the ball to Jared Berggren at the high-post, and after Berggren (almost immediately) kicked the ball back out, Taylor drove right and got about a foot inside the three-point line before pulling the ball out.

Wisconsin was saved because Ben Brust hit a 26 foot three (he tried three of them) and Taylor hit a tough, contested three off the dribble.

This is what Wisconsin’s offense looked like down the stretch. Jordan Taylor doesn’t even look to initiate an offensive set until there are 25 seconds left on the shot clock:


The first time he gets rid of the ball is with 20 seconds left on the shot clock. Wisconsin still hasn’t gotten the ball with 25 feet of the rim:


To their credit, Wisconsin moves the ball around the perimeter quickly, but an offense is easy to defend in the zone when that happens:


The first time Wisconsin is within 25 feet, it is with six seconds left on the shot clock and Ryan Evans is firing a three:


This isn’t the only time that Wisconsin struggled with a zone. Iowa played a lot of zone in their two wins over the Badgers — in the second game, the Hawkeyes made their game-changing run in the second half while in a 2-3 zone — as did Michigan in their 18 point win in January.

The issue is that Wisconsin’s offense is predicated around milking the clock and, if no good shots arise out of Ryan’s Swing Offense, the Badgers either isolate Taylor or give him a ball-screen. When that happens against a zone, however, far too often Taylor is forced to try and create against two defenders.

You have to beat the zone with the pass and by attacking gaps off the dribble. Unless Wisconsin has figured that ou, the absence of Melo around the rim will not decide the outcome of this game.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @robdauster.

Wichita State’s Anton Grady returns home with team

AP Photo/Willie J. Allen Jr.
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Wichita State forward Anton Grady was released from a hospital in Orlando on Sunday afternoon in time to return home with his Shocker teammates.

Grady suffered a spinal corn concussion on Friday when he collided head-first with an Alabama defender, snapping his head sharply to the side. He lay on the court motionless for 10 minutes after the injury and was taken off the floor on a stretcher.

[RELATED: Can WSU still make tourney?]

“I want to send out a big thank you to Shocker Nation and all of my friends and family for of the love and encouragement that I have received the past few days,” Grady said in a statement on Sunday morning. “I’ve been reading your tweets and posts and appreciate every last one of them. I have a lot of work to do to get back on the court, but with the help of such a great support system, I’m ready for the challenge.”

By Friday night, Grady had feeling in all of his extremities, but he has a long road of rehab ahead of him.

SUNDAY’S SNACKS: No. 7 Oklahoma, No. 23 Xavier roll

Ryan Spangler
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This will be updated throughout the evening.


No. 7 Oklahoma 65, Wisconsin 48: One team returned most of its rotation from a season ago and has its roles (for the most part) defined, while the other is still figuring out how its pieces fit together. That was one of the big differences between the Sooners and Badgers in Norman, as Oklahoma got out to a quick start and won comfortably. Ryan Spangler led four Sooners in double figures with 20 points while also grabbing 14 rebounds. Nigel Hayes scored 20 for Wisconsin but did so on 5-for-17 shooting, and as a team the Badgers shot 23.5 percent.

No. 23 Xavier 90, Dayton 61: The rivals’ first meeting since 2013 lacked drama in the second half, as the Musketeers went on a 21-0 run and led by as many as 29 points. Edmond Sumner led the balanced attack with 14 points, with eight Musketeers scoring eight points or more. More can be read about this game here.

Monmouth 83, USC 73: The Hawks avenged their first loss of the season, beating the Trojans in the third place game at the AdvoCare Invitational. Justin Robinson scored 26 points, setting a record for points in the event (passing Michael Beasley), and Monmouth now has three wins over power conference teams (UCLA, Notre Dame and USC). Given their talent and résumé to this point, Monmouth will be a team to keep an eye on as the season progresses.


Ryan Spangler, Oklahoma: 20 points and 14 rebounds in the Sooners’ 65-48 home win over Wisconsin.

Egidijus Mockevicius, Evansville: Mockevicius scored 21 points and grabbed 16 rebounds in the Purple Aces’ 75-56 win over UC Irvine.

Miles Wright, Dartmouth: Wright scored 39 points (13-for-22 FG) and grabbed six rebounds in Dartmouth’s 79-56 win over LIU Brooklyn.


Bronson Koenig, Wisconsin: Everyone struggled for the Badgers including Koenig, who shot 3-for-18 from the field in their loss at No. 7 Oklahoma.

Anthony Drmic, Boise State: In the Broncos’ loss to No. 11 Arizona, Drmic scored eight points but shot 1-for-12 from the field and committed six turnovers.


  • Grayson Allen scored 22 points and Luke Kennard added 22 off the bench as No. 6 Duke handed Utah State its first loss, 82-52.
  • No. 20 Wichita State completed its trip to the AdvoCare Invitational with an 84-61 loss to Iowa. The Shockers are shorthanded with Fred VanVleet, Landry Shamet and Anton Grady all sitting out, but the losses make upcoming opportunities for quality wins even more important.
  • Keith Frazier scored 23 points and freshman Jarrey Foster tallied 15 off the bench as No. 25 SMU took care of Brown, 77-69.
  • No. 11 Arizona beat Boise State for the second time in ten days, winning third place at the DirecTV Wooden Legacy by the final score of 68-59. Kadeem Allen and Allonzo Trier scored 13 points apiece, with Allen also grabbing seven rebounds.
  • Retin Obasohan’s basket in the final seconds gave Alabama a 74-73 win over No. 17 Notre Dame, meaning that the Fighting Irish went 1-2 at the AdvoCare Invitational. Obasohan scored a game-high 19 for the Crimson Tide, while Steve Vasturia led Notre Dame with 18 points.


  • Haanif Cheatham scored 24 points and Duane Wilson added 16 as Marquette beat Jackson State 80-61 in Milwaukee.
  • Four McGlynn scored a career-high 27 points in Rhode Island’s 82-57 win over Rider. He and freshman Christion Thompson, key players with E.C. Matthews out for the season, combined to shoot 9-for-15 from three.
  • Yale played without star forward Justin Sears due to illness and Albany took advantage, blowing out the Bulldogs 88-54. Evan Singletary scored 21 for the winners.
  • Josh Scott led the way with 18 points, eight rebounds and five blocks as Colorado moved to 5-1 on the season with an 82-52 win over Northern Colorado.
  • An Eric Jacobson basket with two seconds remaining gave Arizona State a 70-68 win over UCSB. Jacobson finished with ten points and eight rebounds, and UCSB’s Michael Bryson led all scorers with 23 points to go along with five rebounds and six assists.
  • Justin Edwards finished with 18 points, seven rebounds and six assists as Kansas State hung on for a two-point win over South Carolina State.
  • Kai Healy (14 points, seven rebounds) and Nate Kratch (12 points, ten rebounds) led the way as previously winless Santa Clara beat Boston College 62-45. The Broncos limited the Eagles to 28 percent shooting.
  • Tony Parker and Isaac Hamilton scored 14 points apiece as UCLA blew out CSUN, 77-45.
  • Sunday wasn’t a good day for Texas-based teams playing non-Division I opponents. UTSA fell to Texas-Permian Basin 90-85, and Sam Houston State was knocked off by Wiley College 66-65.