The world of college basketball has changed drastically from where it was decades ago. During that time, players stayed three or four years on a regular basis. Rare was the player who went to the NBA after only one or two years in college, let alone straight out of high school. Players like Dion Waiters and Fab Melo, both of whom left early from Syracuse, would have stayed longer to develop their games.
Imagine, for a moment, a Syracuse squad with both Waiters and Melo on the roster for the 2012-13 season. Yes Fab had his academic issues and clearly struggled through college life. And yes, Dion was ready for the NBA despite not starting a single game in his Orange career.
But nonetheless, thinking about the possibilities can be fun. This version of Jim Boeheim's Syracuse bunch is missing a pure scorer in the half-court offense. Dion Waiters would fill that role perfectly. His quick first step, ability to create off the dribble, and get his own shot would help solve a lot of the problems the Orange are having this season.
Fab Melo solves another glaring weakness on this Syracuse team. It gives the Orange a better defensive threat in the middle of the zone, as well as a competent offensive player at the center position.
How would Syracuse's season play out with these two talented players on the roster? The non-conference schedule likely plays out nearly the same, but the Temple loss turns into a win. Syracuse would have likely entered their contest at Louisville 17-0, and ranked number one in the country.
The tables would be turned as it would be Syracuse trying to protect their top ranking, and would likely fall in a hostile environment. However, they would bounce back and reel off wins over Cincinnati, Villanova, and Pittsburgh. Neither the Wildcats nor the Panthers would have an answer for the suffocating Syracuse defense and athleticism of Waiters.
The schedule plays out similarly until the Connecticut game, where Syracuse is better able to exploit their size advantage with Michael Carter-Williams coming off the bench as the third guard, and Fab Melo patrolling the paint. The Orange dominate the undersized, undermanned Huskies and improve to 24-1 on the season, regaining the top spot in both polls.
A deeper Syracuse squad continues their dominant play with blowout wins over Seton Hall and Providence, and is able to squeak out a close win at home against Georgetown led by Waiters stellar play in the second half.
Syracuse has a slip up at Marquette, a difficult place to play, but rebound by defeating Louisville for the second time. Dion Waiters is the favorite for Big East player of the year, as the Orange finish out the Big East slate with a blowout victory over DePaul and a close win at Georgetown.
With Waiters, MCW, and Brandon Triche forming arguably the best backcourt in the country, the frontline of Fair, Southerland, Christmas and Melo rounds out the deepest team in the country.
After running through the Big East Tournament, Syracuse enters the NCAA Tournament as the top overall seed at 32-2 and the clear favorite to win the title. A more talented Syracuse team runs into the Elite-8 without much resistance. A rematch with Ohio State looms, but the Orange are too much with the zone anchored by Melo.
In the Final Four, Dion Waiters puts on a show leading the Orange over a talented Michigan squad. In the title game, it is a rematch of the 1987 championship with Indiana. This time, the outcome is different. The team's go back and forth as Victor Oladipo and Waiters match each other shot for shot. Melo and Cody Zeller battle inside as the game is tight throughout.
A Southerland three, and Fair layup give the Orange a slim lead late. Melo blocks Oladipo on a drive, and it leads to a run-out where Waiters is able to slam it home in transition. Syracuse wins by six and gets Boeheim his second national title.
While of course this is a fictional account of what could transpire, it's quite unbelievable to think how different this season could have played out. College basketball as a whole could be much more dynamic if players were to stay for more than one or two years.