- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 13, 2012

SYRACUSE, N.Y. — Syracuse will have to chase a national championship without starting center Fab Melo, who has been declared ineligible for the NCAA tournament.

The university announced Tuesday that the 7-foot Brazilian, who did not travel with the team to Pittsburgh for the second- and third-round games, won’t take part in the tournament due to an eligibility issue. The school did not elaborate.

Melo missed three games earlier this season — including one of the top-seeded Orange’s two losses — because of an academic issue,

ESPN, citing an anonymous source, reported that Melo’s absence is related to the first suspension and that the NCAA revisited the case and again ruled him ineligible.

Coach Jim Boeheim said the Orange will be “ready to play.”

As he left the bus in front of the team hotel Tuesday, Boeheim at first said he had nothing to say. He then told The Associated Press that “all we can do is be ready to play with the guys we have.”

“That’s all we can do,” he said. “There are injuries, things happen during a season. We’ll be ready to play and we’ll go play.”

Melo’s sudden ineligibility made waves in Las Vegas, where Cantor Gaming dropped Syracuse’s chances of winning the title to 12-1 from 10-1 Tuesday morning, said Mike Colbert, Cantor’s risk management director. Colbert said the region’s No. 2, Ohio State, was lifted to 5-1 from 6-1 and other lines were affected.

Syracuse went from a 16.5-point favorite against 16-seeded UNC-Asheville to a 15.5 point favorite.

Boeheim has not decided who will start in place of Melo, the Big East Defensive Player of Year, on Thursday when Syracuse (31-2) opens the tournament against No. 16 seed North Carolina-Asheville.

Melo’s presence on the back line of the Orange’s 2-3 zone might not be a factor in that game but it could be if Syracuse advances to play to face the winner of the Kansas State-Southern Mississippi game or possible future opponents in the East Regional such as Ohio State, with sophomore center Jared Sullinger, Florida State or Wisconsin.

Sophomore Baye Keita or freshman Rakeem Christmas should get the start. The Orange are one of the deepest teams in the tournament with seven players, including Melo, averaging between 13.8 and 6.6 points per game.

Melo averaged 7.8 points and 5.8 rebounds and had 88 blocks this season for Syracuse, which was ranked No. 1 for six weeks this season and finished No. 2 behind Kentucky in the final poll.

The Orange opened the season with 20 straight wins before losing 67-58 at Notre Dame without Melo. Syracuse then won 11 in a row before losing 71-68 to Cincinnati last Friday in the Big East tournament semifinals.

The news is the latest development in a tumultuous season for Syracuse.

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