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Can Syracuse men’s basketball be a top-25 team next year despite departures?

Jon Rothstein definitely seems to think so.

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

The Syracuse Orange men’s basketball team is one of many to lose a lot of players this offseason. With a one-time waiver in place, plus extra years of eligibility altering roster construction, it’s definitely led to increased departures.

For Syracuse, that list of players leaving includes Marek Dolezaj, Quiincy Guerrier, Alan Griffin, Kadary Richmond, Robert Braswell, John Bol Ajak and Woody Newton. They’ve added three transfers — Jimmy Boeheim (Cornell), Cole Swider (Villanova), Symir Torrence (Marquette) — and have one 2022 recruit so far in Benny Williams. That obviously doesn’t mean an even swap. But... some have a lot of faith in Syracuse next year just the same.

On Monday, Jon Rothstein had the Orange slotted in at No. 25 in his early rankings for 2021-22, despite all of that change.

He projects a starting lineup of Joe Girard, Buddy Boeheim, Benny Williams, Cole Swider and Bourama Sidibe. Key bench contributors would be Jesse Edwards, Jimmy Boeheim, Symir Torrence and Frank Anselem, with Chaz Owens also on scholarship.

I’m not even being facetious, but how do we feel about that group as a potential top-25 team?

Given Jim Boeheim’s typical short rotations, having 10 scholarship players right now doesn’t necessarily spell doom since we’ll only see eight or nine of those guys per game anyway. Yet, we lose four major contributors (Guerrier, Dolezaj, Griffin, Richmond), now have a lineup with minimal experience in the Syracuse zone, and have definitely decreased athleticism compared to last year.

Looking at Rothstein’s projected starting five, Sidibe would potentially be the strongest defender by a large margin, unless Williams comes in and is ready to go in the zone right away. We’ll hope for improvement there from Girard and Buddy. Swider wasn’t really known for defense at ‘Nova.

On the offensive end, we have one consistent three-point shooter (Buddy) and the most established inside threat (Edwards) is probably coming in off the bench. Williams could turn into a solid inside threat as well, and that would help immensely. Still, there’s a lot we don’t know here. And not a lot of wiggle room for injuries (especially at guard) if we’re not filling out the entire scholarship allotment.

So again, is this a top-25 team? I don’t buy it, but that doesn’t mean they’ll be bad. Key will be how they’re able to progress on defense, and how Williams emerges on both ends. That’s a lot of pressure to put on a freshman. Perhaps a more realistic goal for this squad early on is just avoiding the usual Selection Sunday bubble dread.

Am I completely off-base here, though? Is Rothstein? Share your own thoughts below.