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The Dagger: College Basketball Blog

Five threats to short-handed Syracuse in the East Region

Jeff Eisenberg
The Dagger

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If Kansas State can get by Southern Miss, it could give Syracuse a serious scare this weekend. (AP)

Just hours before the 2012 NCAA tournament officially got underway, folks all around the country began scurrying to try and adjust their brackets at the last second.

Why?

Because sophomore center Fab Melo — Syracuse's top interior presence and anchor in the middle of the Orange's 2-3 zone — was declared ineligible for the tourney on Tuesday. It was a huge last-second blow to the No. 1 seed in the East Region.

Is a Final Four run now out of the question for Syracuse, who is 31-2 on the year? Absolutely not. They've found ways to successfully deal with adversity all season, and more of it than most teams do in a year.

But don't think for a second that the rest of the East Region isn't licking its chops, as what was already perceived to be the most wide open quarter of the bracket now looks like even more of a crapshoot.

Here's a look at five teams with the best shot at keeping Syracuse from a trip to New Orleans.

No. 8 Kansas State

Kansas State has the best odds, mostly because of the five we've chosen, they'd get the first crack at the Orange in the round of 32, should they get by No. 9 Southern Miss first. It looked like a potentially tough matchup for Syracuse even before the Melo news broke, but given K-State's toughness, ability to shoot efficiently over the top of that zone and, above all, control the glass, they're a team the Orange might not be a part of this weekend. K-State has a wealth of ballhawking big men on its roster, which could prove problematic without Melo in the middle.

No. 5 Vanderbilt

Vanderbilt comes in as the hottest team in this region. They blew through the field at the SEC tournament, including a victory over No. 1 Kentucky in the title game on Sunday. If the Commodores can defend the Orange like they did the Wildcats, should the two meet, Syracuse could have trouble working through the post. Also, like Kansas State, Vanderbilt has several quality perimetershooters, which is always the biggest threat to a zone team.

No. 6 Cincinnati

Well, the Bearcats took down Syracuse in the Big East semifinals with Fab Melo in the lineup, and almost had them pinned down in a seven-point home loss without Melo playing back on Jan. 23. They have the confidence that they can play with — and beat — Syracuse whether Melo plays or not. Mentally, Cincinnati is the biggest threat to the Orange in the East.

[ Related: Fab Melo ineligible for NCAA tournament, but Syracuse is used to adversity ]

No. 3 Florida State

Another hot team with shooters and tons of veterans, just like Vanderbilt.

No. 2 Ohio State

This is the obvious call, though they couldn't meet until the Elite Eight, which would mean Syracuse had banded together and won three tournament games without its starting center. Still, it gets significantly easier for Jared Sullinger to have a big game without Melo around.

Ryan Greene also covers UNLV and the Mountain West Conference for RunRebs.com. Follow him on Twitter at @ryanmgreene.

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