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Syracuse Basketball Notebook 1.30.12: Fab Melo, Rakeem Christmas, Pulling Away From The Big East Pack

The No. 2-ranked Syracuse Orange men's basketball team have a few days off before they travel to New York to face St. John's on Saturday. Here's a few topics Orange fans will be discussing during that time off.

After sneaking past the West Virginia Mountaineers Saturday, 63-61, the No. 2-ranked Syracuse Orange men's basketball team get six days off before they travel to New York City and their home-away-from-home, Madison Square Garden, where they will face the St. John's Red Storm Saturday (noon on ESPN).

During the course of the next few days, Orange fans, who have witnessed their team race out to a 22-1 record including two straight without its starting center Fab Melo, will have a lot to discuss. So, here's are a few of those hot-button topics starting with the obvious: the status of Fab Melo.

Fab Melo -- Need I Say More?

Over the course of the past two weeks, there has been so much talk and anxiety swirling around the playing status of one Fabricio Melo, who has missed SU's last three games because of a reported unresolved academic issue that happened in the first semester.

Last Tuesday, I posted a feature talking about the hoopla that has created multiple rumors about what the situation with Melo actually is. If there's one clear aspect of this story, its just fans are going to need to use a wait-and-see approach and hope that the issue is resolved by Saturday's game.

"He's working through his issue, we're hopeful this week we find out," said Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim about Melo near the tail end of his post-game press conference Saturday. "We will see. We will see what happens."

According to a Tweet by Jim Lerch of the Syracuse sports-talk radio show "Bud And The Manchild" its looking good that he may return.

In the meantime, it seems as if Melo is is hitting the books, even though, he may have some slight distractions.

Rakeem Christmas Up-And-Down Play

After putting together probably his best collegiate-performance against the Cincinnati Bearcats Monday (nine rebounds, three block and four points), freshman forward Rakeem Christmas struggled Saturday against West Virginia.

Christmas finished the contest with zero points, one rebound and fouled out of the game with about five minutes remaining (he also played just 14 minutes).

"He looked lost in space today," said Boeheim, who when asked what he said to Christmas on the sidelines responded, "I asked him if he was awake."

The play of Christmas and the lack of a rebounding effort from their guards and forwards led to the Orange being outrebounded 41-20.

"We had just enough on offense to make up for the fact that they'd miss and get it back, miss and get it back and final score," said Boeheim.

"Its really about our guards and forwards doing a better job of rebounding the ball."

Junior guard Brandon Triche, who netted a team-best 18 points including two from the free-throw line that helped SU earn the victory, agreed with his head coach.

"A lot of the balls were on the foul line or under the foul line and those are rebounds the guards should get," said Triche.

Overall, Syracuse's guard combined for just two rebounds against WVU and senior point guard Scoop Jardine said he expects a heavy dose of guard-forward rebounding drills during practice this week.

Meanwhile, Saturday's bad performance on the boards dropped SU's rebounding margin into negative numbers (-.30) after entering the contest at +0.60.

Orange Pulling Away From Big East Conference Pack

Syracuse's win over West Virginia combined with: Georgetown Hoyas losing to the Pittsburgh Panthers, Cincinnati Bearcats losing to the Rutgers Scarlet Knights and Connecticut Huskies losing to the Notre Dame Fighting Irish Sunday have left the Orange with a big, first-place lead in the Big East standings.

Big East Conference Standings

(updated 1.30.2012 at 1:23 AM EST)

Currently, Marquette is in second place but it is trailing SU by 1 1/2 games and would lose a head-to-head tiebreaker after falling to the Orange a few weeks ago. Meanwhile, third-place teams, Georgetown, Notre Dame and South Florida Bulls, are 2 1/2 games behind the Orange.

With eight games remaining, including a contest against Georgetown, Feb. 8, and home-and-homes games with both UConn and Louisville, its tough to say that SU has locked up the league's No. 1 spot, but its going to be really, really tough to catch them.

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