Excuse Syracuse fans if they're experiencing a sickening case of déjà vu.
Hours before a key Saturday Big East game last January, Syracuse announced center Fab Melo did not make the trip and would be unavailable indefinitely for what turned out to be an academic issue related to fall semester grades. Now the Orange may have lost a key player off this year's team for what may be similar reasons.
Senior forward James Southerland will not play Saturday against Villanova because he has been ruled ineligible "until further notice," Syracuse announced less than an hour before tip-off at the Carrier Dome. The university release did not specify a reason, citing student privacy laws, but the Syracuse Post-Standard reported it is again an academic issue and Southerland's season is in jeopardy.
If that's the case, so is Syracuse's Big East and national title hopes because Southerland is one of the team's most indispensable players.
The 6-foot-8 senior is Syracuse’s second-leading scorer, averaging 13. 6 points and 5.2 rebounds to help lead the seventh-ranked Orange to a 15-1 record. He has been the team's primary 3-point shooting threat this season, sinking more than two threes per game and hitting 37.5 percent of his attempts from behind the arc.
If Southerland cannot return, it will put pressure on Syracuse's freshmen to contribute. In particular, 6-foot-8 Jerami Grant, the lone player on the roster shooting better from 3-point range than Southerland, will probably have to play a greater role.
Last year, Melo missed three Big East games due to his academic issue, then returned for the rest of the regular season only to be held out of the NCAA tournament. It remains to be seen whether Southerland has worn his Syracuse jersey for the final time, but if so, that's a damaging loss for the Orange.