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Syracuse basketball may need to take one step backward to take two steps forward

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Next year could be tough, but it may bode well for the future.

NCAA Basketball: Syracuse at Notre Dame
Syracuse Orange guard Frank Howard (1) dribbles in the first half against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish at the Purcell Pavilion. Notre Dame won 84-66.
Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

This may not be what Syracuse Orange basketball fans want to hear, but it could very well be the truth for the future of the program.

Syracuse is coming off of a 19-15 season, but more importantly lost its top recruiter and coach-in-waiting, Mike Hopkins, and one of its best players in Tyler Lydon.

Things aren’t exactly ideal right now in the SU hoops world, but Jim Boeheim is doing what he can to make it better. He’s been on the recruiting trail and is realizing what SU needs to make sure a year like 2016-17 doesn’t happen again under his watch.

Syracuse is trying to get Eric Ayala and/or Hameir Wright to reclassify to 2017, but it’s unknown if either will. Gerry McNamara watched Wright play on Saturday, and Jim Boeheim followed up one day later to see the four-star prospect. But he’s nearly dead set on going to Brewster Academy, which will leave the Orange empty-handed.

But as for next season, it could be a rough one. Syracuse is young, will likely have three freshmen coming off of the bench and will be starting a redshirt freshman in Matthew Moyer. Not to mention, 7-foot-2 center Paschal Chukwu didn’t contribute much this past season due to a torn retina — which leaves his production a major question. He’s expected to apply for a medical redshirt that would give him three more years of eligibility.

Tyus Battle and Taurean Thompson will both start next season — both sophomores — and Frank Howard, who didn’t have the sophomore year that some expected he would, will likely get the nod at point guard.

As of right now, the Orange don’t have a scholarship senior on next year’s roster.

NCAA Basketball: Duke at Syracuse Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

Taking a step backwards next year — or a rebuilding year as others would call it — is very possible. With how young and inexperienced the squad will be, and the lack of depth it could potentially have — it’s hard to imagine the Orange being consistent.

It’s clear Syracuse needs another scorer on next year’s team, and another guard — but where will that come from?

Likely a graduate transfer, but who? It’s extremely unlikely Syracuse can land an Andrew White caliber scorer again.

Will Tyus Battle and Taurean Thompson be able to carry the scoring load next year? Probably. But how many points per game will they realistically combined for? Some nights it could be upwards of 50-plus, other nights it could be 25-30.

Where does the other scoring come from? What if either get in foul trouble early?

If Syracuse only lands one more player for next season, the coaching staff will have no choice but to throw the three incoming freshmen into the mix from day one.

Howard Washington, Oshae Brissett and Bourama Sidibe will all be forced to contribute right away, which would help the program down the road.

But not next season. The 2017-18 season would be one big learning curve for a lot of players, and we’re likely to see a lot of freshmen mistakes, frustrating moments and tough losses if those three see extended minutes.

But if you can get through next year, the 2018-19 season could be special. The Orange would have a senior point guard in Frank Howard, an experienced forward in Matthew Moyer, an experienced big man in Paschal Chukwu, and three then-sophomores who have a year under their belt in a difficult system to learn. Battle and Thompson will likely turn pro after next season.

If you throw in a few recruits to that team, potentially including five-star Naz Reid or five-star Cameron Reddish — all of a sudden the Orange could be scary.

Syracuse basketball is at its best when there’s a mixture of youth and experience.

Whether that’s Scoop Jardine with Dion Waiters, or CJ Fair with Jerami Grant or Cooney/Gbinije with Richardson/Lydon — the balance is what makes Syracuse great, and it always has.

Will the Orange have to sacrifice next season for the betterment of the future?

Maybe.

Right now, with eight scholarship players, Syracuse is looking at a step backwards next year — but that could lead to two steps forward to following year, and a chance to get back where the program belongs — the Big Dance.