Jim Boeheim, Syracuse are at a crossroads

Syracuse is at an inflection point as a program.

The Orange landed in the ACC with a splash four seasons ago, posting a 14-4 record and securing a No. 3 seed in the 2014 NCAA tournament. Add to that the team's highly impressive run to the 2016 Final Four as a No. 10 seed and you're looking at what might be termed traditional Big East-era Syracuse might.

Then again, Jim Boeheim's team has now missed the tournament in two of the past three seasons and is a so-so 28-26 in ACC play in that span. Moreover, for a third consecutive season, the incoming freshman class at Syracuse this fall will, apparently, lack a national top-25 player. (Actually, for the first time, said class could lack a top-50 or possibly even a top-100 recruit.)

Lastly, Tyler Lydon elected to take a shot at the NBA draft after his sophomore season, leaving the Orange with only five returning scholarship players.

At least the coaching situation is sorted out: Boeheim has, at age 72, signed a contract extension that will keep him at the school beyond this coming season. (Former assistant Mike Hopkins, who was nominally the Orange head coach in waiting, had previously moved on to take the job at Washington.)

Besides, this 2017-18 roster is not yet set in stone. Syracuse is active on both the late signee and graduate transfer markets, and would-be freshmen and/or seniors might well like the idea of playing in the ACC for a legendary coach and alongside returning starters Tyus Battle and Taurean Thompson.

Battle, in particular, had a strong finish last season. As a freshman, the 6-foot-6 Battle averaged 17 points in Syracuse's last seven games while taking excellent care of the ball. With Andrew White having come to the end of his eligibility, Battle will be a leading candidate to take over a featured-scorer role in 2017-18.

Thompson might be even more intriguing than his fellow sophomore-to-be. On offense, the 6-foot-10 New York City product was the most assertive freshman big man Syracuse has seen in years, if not decades. Per kenpom.com, Thompson personally accounted for 28 percent of the Orange's shot attempts during his minutes. That level of assertiveness not only ranked No. 1 on the team, it was also entirely appropriate coming from a player who connected on 57 percent of his two-point shots.

Getting the ball to Battle and Thompson figures to be Frank Howard's responsibility, a role that will feel both familiar and new. Howard started Syracuse's first 14 games as a sophomore last season, but if it's possible to be benched with an exclamation point, that's pretty much what happened. From Jan. 1 through the end of the ACC tournament, he averaged less than 10 minutes per game as Boeheim elected to go instead with John Gillon at point guard. With Gillon now gone, however, Howard could get another shot.

Rounding out the rotation will be Matthew Moyer and Paschal Chukwu. Coming out of high school, the 6-8 Moyer was ranked as more or less equal to Thompson, and he used his redshirt freshman season in 2016-17 to bulk up. The 7-2 Chukwu missed almost all of his sophomore season because of a torn retina.

All of the above could prove sufficient for a mid-tier ACC finish, but in the bigger picture, Syracuse needs a personnel plan going forward. In its ACC era, the program has had a succession of excellent, though not quite top-10, recruits -- Jerami Grant, Tyler Ennis, Malachi Richardson and now Lydon -- perform well enough as freshmen and/or sophomores to leave early. Meanwhile, Syracuse's leading player for minutes in each of the past two seasons has been a major-conference transfer in his senior season: Michael Gbinije in 2015-16 and White last season.

Is this the new template? Will the Orange have to replace early departures by Battle and/or Thompson? Will high school recruits see Boeheim's program in a different light (relative to 12 months ago) now that his situation has been clarified? These are among the questions awaiting answers at Syracuse in 2017-18.