The process of singling out one player on a defense like Syracuse - which ranked third in America in blocked shots per game (6.9), fifth in steals per game (9.1) and eighth in field goal percentage defense (38.5) – is no easy task. However, we do just that on the heels of the 2011-12 season wrapping up with the Elite Eight loss to Ohio State.
Nominees: Fab Melo, Dion Waiters, C.J. Fair, Kris Joseph
Melo led the team in blocks (88), rebounds (5.8 per game) and even personal fouls (85) this season. And he turned it up during Big East play, becoming the most feared shot-blocker in the league. Melo ended up leading the conference with a staggering 3.7 blocks per game, while impacting many more shots while also bringing a certain attitude and swagger to SU's defense while he was in there. It should be noted that me missed a total of seven games because of reported academic issues, including the entire NCAA Tournament.
Waiters was a pest early in the season atop the 2-3 zone, and he even led the country in steals at one point. He tailed-off a bit towards the end, but he still ended up leading the Orange with 67 total steals, 17 more than the next closest teammate. Waiters 1.81 steals per game average was 70th in the country and he also pulled down more than two rebounds each game and registered 12 blocks, while using the turnovers to steady what many considered the best transition offense in the country.
Fair was the team's overall leading rebounder, pulling down 199 boards on the year despite a smaller frame than Melo or any other front court player on the roster. He was also the most consistent rebounder on the squad, recording a team-leading pair of double-doubles and four double-figure rebounding efforts during the campaign. Fair was fourth on the team with 40 steals, and he denied 18 shots in the process.
Joseph was also pretty consistent, doing a bit of everything well. He was second on the team with 50 steals, the team's third-leading rebounder at 4.7 per game and he was fifth on the team with 23 blocks. Joseph had a knack, like Waiters, for getting the offense going after a turnover – often keeping the ball himself for an easy dunk or lay-in.
Winner: Fab Melo
And it wasn't close.
Melo was the bread and butter, anchor and heart of the Syracuse 2-3 zone. Penetration was at a minimum with him on the inside, and his presence and effort often rubbed off on his teammates when games neared crunch time. Melo was the reason Syracuse was able to stay near the top of the rankings, and the only hope for a possible National Championship. While he wasn't the team MVP, he was certainly the most important role player on the roster – and the clear-cut choice for CuseNation.com Defensive Player of the Year.
On Thursday, we tackle the CuseNation.com award for Offensive Player of the Year.
CuseNation.com brings you an objective look at the 2011-12 Syracuse basketball season, but we dial it back some in our initial reviews. Certain players had standout campaigns – and they will be recognized in the 2011-12 CuseNation hoops awards. On Day 3 of the series, we crown a Defensive Player of the Year.