Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim expressed disappointment Wednesday at losing center Fab Melo for the NCAA Tournament because of his academic ineligibility.
As the top-seeded Orange prepare to take on UNC-Asheville Thursday afternoon in the second round of the NCAA Tournament in Pittsburgh, Boeheim refused to address the specifics of Melo's academic situation, but said he does not believe the 7-footer has "let anybody down."
"I feel bad for him," said the 67-year-old Hall of Fame coach, touting Melo's shot-blocking ability, which has become a key part of the team's signature 2-3 zone defense this season.
The 21-year-old Brazilian was suspended for three games earlier this season because of an unspecified academic issue, and the team lost its first game of the year at Notre Dame during that time.
He finished the regular season ranked second in the Big East with 88 blocks, averaging 2.93 per game, and was named the conference's Defensive Player of the Year.
"I have not seen a bigger improvement from a player that I've coached in one year," Boeheim said. "He did everything you could possibly do to improve as a basketball player."
Boeheim said he did not know about the eligibility ruling from the NCAA until Tuesday, when the school announced it.
Melo averaged 7.8 points and 5.8 rebounds in a tumultuous season for the Orange that started amid allegations of child molestation against assistant coach Bernie Fine, who was fired soon after.
Last week, as the team was set to play its first game at the Big East Tournament, Yahoo! Sports reported Syracuse had failed on multiple occasions to follow its own drug-testing policy, not penalizing players for failed tests.
Melo, a sophomore, is now set to move on to the NBA Draft, and will be replaced in the lineup by freshman Rakeem Christmas.