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Adrian Autry leads Syracuse men's basketball into new era following Jim Boeheim's retirement

FILE - Syracuse center Jesse Edwards, left, fights for a rebound against Wake Forest forward Zach Keller during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in Syracuse, N.Y., March 4, 2023. Edwards transferred to West Virginia for the 2023-24 season. (AP Photo/Adrian Kraus, File)

SYRACUSE, N.Y. (AP) — Things will be just a tad different for Syracuse basketball this season. OK, a lot different.

Retired after 47 years at the helm is Hall of Fame coach Jim Boeheim, along with his 1,116 wins, five Final Four appearances and 2003 national championship. Departed are the veteran transfers: shooting guard Joe Girard, who led Syracuse in scoring and 3-point shooting, and center Jesse Edwards.

And gone also – for the most part – is Syracuse’s signature 2-3 zone defense, which befuddled opponents for years but had become increasingly ineffective in recent seasons.

Patrolling the sideline as coach will be former Syracuse star and longtime assistant Adrian Autry, whose challenge is returning the program to what he calls “the Orange Standard.” For most Syracuse fans, this would mean a return to the NCAA Tournament, something that hasn’t happened the past two seasons — the first time that’s happened since the late 1960s.

The Orange have struggled mightily since joining the ACC. Since a 28-6 record and second-place finish in its inaugural ACC season in 2013-2014, Syracuse has finished no higher than sixth with an overall record of 172-126 and a conference mark of 84-84.

Syracuse had its first losing campaign since 1968-69 two seasons ago, finishing 16-17, and is coming off a mediocre 17-15 record last year.

There are reasons for optimism, though.

All six freshmen return, including point guard Judah Mintz, a projected NBA lottery pick who made the All-ACC freshman team by averaging 16.3 points, 4.3 assists and more than a steal a game. Also returning are sharpshooting forward Chris Bell and Maliq Brown who, at 6-foot-9, can play both forward and center.

Poised for a breakout season is junior forward Benny Williams, a former five-star recruit, who gave a hint of his potential with a 17-point, seven rebound effort in Syracuse’s ACC tournament loss to Wake Forest.

JJ Starling, a Notre Dame transfer, joins Mintz in what could be one of the nation’s more dynamic backcourts. Starling averaged 11 points a game and also earned a berth on the All-ACC freshman team despite battling an array of injuries.

Newcomers with potentially large roles include transfers Naheem McLeod (Florida State), at 7-4 the tallest player in program history, and 6-6 sophomore Chance Westry (Auburn), a former Top 40 recruit.

Autry vows to play man-to-man defense — “I've been not shy about that,” he said last week — most of the time, which is music to the ears of SU fans, while knowing he can revert to the 2-3 system when necessary.

WHAT’S YOUR POSITION?

Autry won't be short on options with plenty of interchangeable parts in calling his system “position-less basketball.” Westry and sophomore Quadir Copeland can play both guard positions and small forward. Returnees Justin Taylor and Bell can play shooting guard or small forward; Williams can play either forward slot. Look for occasional lineups without a true center, with Brown able to play center or power forward.

UP TO SPEED

With an athletic group, look for the Orange to push the ball, much to the delight of fans who still recall the run-and-gun days of Pearl Washington and Sherman Douglas in 1980s. “We’ve changed our style of play,” Autry said.

DID WE SAY POTENTIAL?

For the first time in many years, this group is long on potential. If Mintz, Starling, Williams, Bell, Westry, Brown, Copeland and McLeod reach their potential the 2023-24 Orange can make some noise.

SCHEDULING

Syracuse opens the season against New Hampshire on Nov. 6 but has tough matchups against Colgate, which has defeated the Orange in successive years, then No. 9 Tennessee at the loaded Maui Invitational. Beat the Vols and Syracuse will have to face either No. 3 Purdue or No. 11 Gonzaga and then potentially No. 1 Kansas, No. 5 Marquette or UCLA. Other key games: LSU (Nov. 28), Georgetown (Dec. 9) and Oregon (Dec. 17).

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