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Syracuse men’s basketball’s most challenging offseason yet awaits

That doesn’t guarantee it’ll be bad — but it certainly has its hurdles.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Syracuse at West Virginia Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

With three players transferring and another testing the NBA Draft waters, this would already be a pretty tumultuous offseason for the Syracuse Orange men’s basketball program. Yet, there could still be a lot more news to come on the departures front, as at least one report suggests.

We’ve been through “tough” offseasons before. Syracuse has dealt with a rash of transfers, unexpected NBA Draft decisions, NCAA sanctions, and all three of those things at the same time. But if the above idea comes to pass, that just three players opt to return to the Orange next year... this is going to be our most challenging offseason yet.

And specifically, it’ll be the most challenging offseason for Jim Boeheim in his decades at the helm of SU men’s hoops. We can debate how much of that is a result of his own actions vs. the nature of this offseason as a player movement free-for-all. But moving beyond the finger-pointing, we know there will be nothing all that calm about the next six months or so.

Syracuse needs players, obviously, and only has one new one coming in so far, in five-star 2021 forward Benny Williams. So that’s a start, obviously, but Boeheim and the staff will need to do a ton of work to both advance conversations with top undecided high school prospects for 2021 AND bring in what’s likely to be SU’s largest influx of transfers ever.

Lucky and unlucky for them, there’s a record number of players in the transfer portal and many programs are dealing with player departures this offseason. So that does provide an opportunity to add established talent. But it also means every other program is competing with Syracuse for said players. It’s free agency, minus the huge contracts awarded afterward.

Making matters more complicated for Syracuse are a few things: fit within the zone, the pure number of players that may need to be replaced, and the negative recruiting that will certainly occur around Boeheim’s age and his demeanor at times.

None of this is to say Syracuse can’t add players, or can’t even add players good enough to get them back to the NCAA Tournament in 2022. They very well could, with the promise of playing time and a new start without much in the way of an established pecking order on the returning roster (though the Buddy Boeheim and Joe Girard combo would certainly appear entrenched based on past results).

There’s still a challenge there, however, and one that is unenviable for any coach — nevermind one toward the end of his career, and (like any of us) probably prefers not hitting reset on his approach.

Jim’s proved himself adaptable around aspects of the modern game. He’s let the team float toward a three-point shooting approach at times. He’s found a way to make the zone a cheat code in the early rounds of the tournament. Hell, he’s MADE the tournament more often than not of late with less talent and a lesser resume than he’s had historically.

Still, there are other areas where it’s tough to change, or at least change perceptions.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Syracuse at Houston Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

The #narrative on Jim is that he doesn’t support players leaving early, even if there are more cases of him in favor of guys declaring. Whether this winds up true or not, there’s an idea that Girard’s starting at point guard and that makes it harder to get buy-in from a player looking for a bigger opportunity and/or a new situation.

There’s the lazy talking point around the zone and how it transfers to the NBA — a recurring tradition around draft time every year that allows Jim to catch new strays from scouts, reporters and fans. The extension of that is to point to which Syracuse players didn’t work out in the NBA, without context that they were still first round picks, so still got paid. And many times, fit is a huge part of sticking around in the league.

Regardless of how much of the above is true, it’s all there and all stacks as extra hurdles to jump during what will be a very long offseason — for the coach, his staff and the players, plus the fan base (self included), who’s always battling questions of program relevancy and long-term viability.

I’m willing to bet Boeheim figures this out and gets a decent team on the floor next year. But... admittedly, I’m far less confident in that fact than I may have been a couple years ago. That’s not about age. Or really even about him in a vacuum. We’re just at a point where a lot about the game has changed, and flexibility is the most valuable trait you can have. Flexibility’s never been Boeheim’s strong suit. But it may have to be now as he gets to working on this tough task ahead.