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Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim, Elijah Hughes, Marek Dolezaj take on ACC Media Day

Jim Boeheim dug into his concerns about the team’s defense. Elijah Hughes let loose on a plate of mac-and-cheese.

NCAA Basketball: ACC Media Day Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

Elijah Hughes and Marek Dolezaj tasted life among the ACC’s elite as the Syracuse Orange’s invites for the Operation Basketball media day. While coaches clamored over “pay to play” and food allowances, the players dug deep into the event’s catering. Dolezaj grabbed a salad covered in bacon. Hughes cleaned off a plate of mac-and-cheese.

With Dolezaj’s long-awaited summer weight gain placing him in the right direction, Hughes caught the flack for his lunch selection.

While Hughes and Dolezaj enjoyed the perks in Charlotte, Jim Boeheim used the event to tout his three-point offense. He teased a team that he thinks can exceed expectations, while articulating his concerns about the defensive side. There will be adjustments to that end to compensate what Syracuse lost in four starters who manned the zone for multiple seasons.

“We think we can be better defensively,” he said. “We think we can do a few more things defensively, but obviously when you’re a pretty good, solid defensive team you’re not really thinking as a coach about changing to other defenses. But certainly we’ll look into what other things we can do on the defensive end.”

That may or may not mean man-to-man, which Boeheim teased earlier in the summer could work itself into a significant number of possessions. For the offense, he provided a more specific preview.

Buddy Boeheim and Hughes figure to be significant components of every lineup with their sharpshooting from a season ago. Boeheim’s son’s shooting percentages blew his father away, especially as they persisted into ACC play. When the young Boeheim arrived at Syracuse, his father expected him to reach a productive level into his sophomore year. By the end of his freshman season, Boeheim made himself a shoo-in starter.

“He probably won four games, five games that we wouldn’t have won without him,” Boeheim said. “He’s way ahead of my schedule... he’s actually ahead of where I thought he’d be this year too.”

Boeheim pointed out that Hughes fell behind Frank Howard, Tyus Battle and Oshae Brissett on the shot priority chart last year. Despite that, Hughes shot a massive volume of threes with such efficiency that it propelled him up the chart. He’s already looking better, Boeheim said, with the ability to make plays on the ball — a role SU will use him in.

“Hughes can do more things than anybody we’ve had in a while,” he repeated. That prediction held firm last year.

Overall, Boeheim expects a faster-paced, transition team. He predicted tempo, movement up the court and sharp-shooting. A team that ranked 13th and 14th throughout his recent memory (which we know spans a long time) could leap up the league.

Boeheim also checked the box on the important things, his career outlook and the all-important zone discussion. We’ll keep an eye on both of these as the years go on.

While Boeheim’s done this several dozen times between the Big East and ACC, Hughes and Dolezaj seemed to legitimately find the event amusing in their first go-arounds. They sported several pairs of shoes for the variety of radio spots, photo shoots and personality videos they filmed. Hughes stuck with Kobe, while Dolezaj sported a pair of Kyries initially.

Hughes, as the team’s likely leading-scorer, figured to be the voice of the team to the media in the locker room. Dolezaj arrived in Syracuse barely knowing English. His abilities slowly grew through lessons and being around the media after every game. But a player who once only threw a few words out in interviews now represented the entire roster at a speaking event.

“I didn’t expect I would ever be here,” he told News Channel 9. “Two years ago, I didn’t even speak English. Now it feels really cool for me to be the with the best players, best coaches here.”

Boeheim views the Orange as a sleeper. With massive turnover and youth in the room, he avoided major declarations. But with Hughes, Dolezaj and Bourama Sidibe both around the program for over two seasons, they sport a solid veteran core.

The unknowns will play crucial roles though. Boeheim touted Brycen Goodine’s athleticism and Quincy Gurrier’s strength.

“He’s really similar like Oshae,” he said of Guerrier. “He’ll help us a lot. He’s strong. He can shoot. He can go to the basket. And our two centers (Jesse Edwards and John Bol Ajak), they’re great young guys, and they just need a little bit of time.”

Boeheim also took time to sound off on the 20-game ACC schedule. The slate placed the Orange against Virginia on opening night, takes them to Georgia Tech in the middle of December and eliminated regular non-conference games like Buffalo and UConn.

The stretch, he said, will cause more harm than good in terms of the number of teams reaching the tournament. While it increases strength of schedule, any losses hurt and those become more likely with a greater number of games in-conference.

The ACC turned to the schedule in promotion of the ACC Network, which media day broadcasted on through Tuesday afternoon. Syracuse’s trio returns to campus for its own media day and the orange vs. white scrimmage on Friday night.