Syracuse sophomore forward C.J. Fair has started only five of Syracuse’s 33 games this season, but he is an important piece of the puzzle for coach Jim Boeheim and the Orange. The Orange, the number one seed in the East Region of the NCAA tournament, will lean on Fair even more now that center Fab Melo will be ineligible for the rest of the season.
Fair averages 8.6 points and 5.5 rebounds per game. These numbers may not seem impressive at first glance, but Fair leads the Orange in total rebounds and is fourth in scoring. This season, the Orange have been an offense by committee; only two players, Kris Joseph (13.8 ppg) and Dion Waiters (12.6 ppg), average more than ten points per game. It has worked well so far; Syracuse has lost only twice all year: at Notre Dame, when they played without Melo, and last week to Cincinnati in the semifinals of the Big East Tournament.
As a one-seed, Syracuse will probably be a featured team during television coverage of the tourney. Syracuse has several very good players, but none is more fun to watch than Fair. Keep an eye out for his smooth mid-range game and soft touch with a finger roll, but never forget that he is an explosive dunker. Just ask Pitt forward Talib Zanna:
Fair and the Orange open tournament play at 3:10 on Thursday afternoon against 16-seed UNC Asheville, the Big South Conference champion. Should they win on Thursday, Syracuse will play again on Saturday against the winner of the 8/9 match-up between Kansas State and Southern Miss.
Syracuse was a popular pick to advance to the Final Four before the news about Melo broke, so it will be interesting to see how the Orange respond to the loss of a key cog at the most important time of the year.