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Syracuse basketball vs. Southern New Hampshire exhibition preview

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Boeheim year 42 is here.

NCAA Basketball: ACC Media Day Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

The Syracuse Orange open the 2017-18 preseason tonight with the first of a pair of exhibition games. Southern New Hampshire University, which shocked John in being a college that physically exists, enters as one of the better Division II basketball programs for a 7 p.m. tip-off at the Carrier Dome tonight.

But the opponent and lower expectations, combined with Orange football competing with top-10 teams, gives Syracuse basketball something they haven’t had in a long time: a low-key entrance.

Jim Boeheim and the team have 27 days to sort through lineups, plays and get into their defensive movements at game speed before the first significant opponent, Maryland, comes to the Carrier Dome. Despite that, the team is stressing a stronger opening portion of the season. That task rests on the returning core of Frank Howard and Tyus Battle.

NCAA Basketball: Georgia Tech at Syracuse Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

Tonight’s lineups likely won’t be the same we see one month from now with four freshmen, two transfers and Matthew Moyer all playing their first games for the Orange. Even Paschal Chukwu is essentially making a second run at his Syracuse debut after his shortened 2016-17 campaign. It’s a completely new team, and it’s spurred low expectations nationally.

A year after Boeheim declared the 2016-17 team his best in years, he’s about to assume his most inexperienced.

What portion of the ball-handling responsibilities will Howard take on in his junior season? How often will Battle appear at the top or bottom of the zone and what will his role be offensively? Will this longer roster be naturally better in the 2-3 zone?

They are small questions with answers that are likely to change as this season progresses, but if SU wants to defy expectations in the early season they will have to be hurdled.

Oshae Brissett and Moyer likely round out the starters alongside Chukwu in the middle, then behind them Boeheim expects to play three-guard lineups. How will Moyer fare rotating into the center of the zone with those? Can Marek Dolezaj be efficient from beyond the arc when he enters? All things to look for in an offense that Boeheim said will depend less on three-point attempts than in past seasons.

“We’ll have to find... some other way to attack,” he said at Syracuse’s media day.

And who will that third guard be? Geno Thorpe would be a solid bet, but he battled an ankle injury preseason.

The preseason is about asking a million questions and hoping some semblance of answers emerge. On this roster, there seems to be more than in recent memory.

On the other side the Penmen (a terrible team name I’ve only seen surpassed by the Hillbillies), feature head coach Stan Spirou amazingly approaches Boeheim in coaching experience with 33 years at SNHU. Daquaise Andrews, one of the team’s double-figure scorers from their 21-9 season in 2016-17 is questionable. Chris Walters leads their returning players with 18.1 points-per-game.

Despite minor changes in approach, Boeheim doesn’t expect significant shifts away from his core philosophy even in the face of an overhauled roster.

"Our defense isn't changing," he said. "And I've always coached the offense, so we really don't have a lot of change."