In the face of a dark sexual abuse scandal regarding an assistant coach that has certainly tainted the image of the university, the Syracuse Orangemen are in the process of putting together one of the greatest seasons in the history of the program.
When the severity of the Bernie Fine scandal had been realized and he had been fired, many believed it would become a distraction for the Orange and possibly lead to the firing of legendary head coach Jim Boeheim.
Just a few months later, ‘Cuse is playing some of their best basketball, ranked No. 2 in the country and, much to the chagrin of opposing teams, Boeheim is still at the helm, steering his team towards another national championship.
Somewhat overshadowed by the recent adversity the program has faced and the team's recent success despite it is Boeheim's ascension up the NCAA Division I All Time Wins list. With the recent help of one of his deepest teams ever, Boeheim currently sits third all time after surpassing Dean Smith on Feb. 8. Only Bob Knight and current Duke University head coach Mike Krzyzewski lie ahead of Boeheim.
Just as the sex scandal drama had begun to subside, another issue took center stage as star sophomore center Fab Melo was sidelined by the school due to academic issues. Citing privacy laws, the university never disclosed any specifics behind the ban, leaving fans reeling, not knowing if Melo was out for just a game or potentially the rest of the season.
After falling to the unranked Irish of Notre Dame in Syracuse's first game without their seven-footer, Melo's role as the capstone in Boeheim's vaunted zone became evident. The Orange's ability to overcome Melo's absence in their next two games, the last of his suspension, with important wins against Big East opponents Cincinnati and West Virginia, has mentally prepared the team for a serious push for a national title.
Just about every team that wins a championship has a time of adversity in their season that they mark as a turning point. Adversity has almost become a necessary evil. Especially with a season as long as men's college basketball, a pothole-free road to the championship is rarely seen anymore. As long as you don't blow out a tire or break an axel, these moments of adversity are rarely as damaging to a team's season as it may feel at first.
Now if Syracuse had lost all three games they played without their baller from Brazil, I would be singing a different song. The confidence of others on the team who were called upon to fill the massive void left by Melo, such as Baye Keita and Rakeem Christmas, would take a big hit.
Melo's absence, I believe, also came at a great time for the Orange. Knocking them from the top of the national rankings, a significant amount of pressure was taken off the team because of the loss. While the initial drop to fourth was a bit steep for a team that had won 20 games, the ranking has proven to be a reality check for the Orange. If the Orange had not dropped its first game until the Big East tournament, only days before the NCAA Tournament began, there might not have been sufficient time for the team's confidence to rebound.
Despite all the adversity the Orange have faced this season, they continue to play at a level that only a few teams in the country can match. With an academically eligible Fab Melo and a healthy squad the rest of the way, there is no reason why the Orange can't become the second New York team this year to win a championship.