Fab Melo's play this season has given him plenty of reason to smile.
With a 16-0 start for the third time in Jim Boeheim’s 36-year head coaching tenure, Syracuse aims to remain at the top of the college basketball world with its defense, as it takes on Marquette on Saturday.
The Orange will look to continue a run that has been steered by its defense and transition game.
Syracuse Defense-- 2011-12 Season
Syracuse has been averaging 11.1 steals per game, a significant increase from the 8.8 it averaged last season.
Boeheim’s defense has more steals than any other Division I teams with 177, 20 more than the team with the second-most (UNLV, 157).
Generating turnovers has created four more transition plays per game than last season for the Orange.
That has led to more transition points, an increase from 16.0 to 20.4 points per game.
Leading the Orange in the transition game is Dion Waiters. The sophomore guard has been coming off the bench and providing energy by stealing the ball almost four times per 40 minutes, the third-highest rate in Division I, and scoring a Division I-high 97 transition points.
Another key to the Syracuse defense is guarding shots around the basket. Opponents who don’t turn the ball over are having trouble scoring. Syracuse’s interior defense has been fantastic, holding opponents to 23 percent shooting from the field and 0.46 points per play on post-up plays, both second-best in Division I.
The main reason has been the presence of Fab Melo. The 30 pounds he lost in the offseason has given him more time in the middle of the trademark 2-3 zone defense.
Fab Melo Last 2 Seasons
Melo played 10 minutes per game as a freshman last season and averaged a respectable 2.9 blocks per 40 minutes. This season Melo is playing 23 minutes per game, averaging better than five blocks per 40 minutes, and has looked like a completely different player.
But the bigger surprise to Melo’s improvement has been his offense. Melo has been running up and down the court for more transition points and taking advantage of his size on post-up plays. That is noted in the chart on the right.
Melo’s combination of skills has helped Syracuse shoot 50 percent on post-ups and 58 percent on putbacks. That size will be a key against Marquette, the second ranked opponent that Syracuse has faced this season.
Syracuse figures to have a significant advantage in what it does well. Marquette’s defense rates below average in opponents’ field-goal percentage against both post-ups (44.4) and put-backs (54.5).