ACC Team Previews: Clemson TigersPosted by KCarpenter on October 24th, 2012
Throughout the preseason, the ACC microsite will release a preview for each of the 12 teams. Today’s victim: the Clemson Tigers.
Last season, the Clemson Tigers flirted with sneaking into the NCAA Tournament before wilting in the conference tournament. Brad Brownell‘s squad go off to a dubious start, losing home games to the likes of Coastal Carolina and the College of Charleston and continuing shaky play on the road by losing to Hawaii and Boston College. Yet something strange happened as the season went on: The Tigers notched victories against North Carolina State, Virginia, and Florida State, finishing the season on a fairly impressive 5-2 run. It would have taken an unlikely run to the ACC Tournament championship game, but Clemson was not as impossibly far from dancing as their 16-14 record (8-8 in conference) might indicate. The question remains, however, can the Tigers move forward?
The Tigers are going to welcome a whole raft of freshmen this season as Brownell tries to replenish the team’s depleted ranks. The freshmen class consists of a wide range of fairly talented recruits, though no one player is heralded as a game-changing savior. Adonis Filer and Jordan Roper are capable point guards, but this year they will, barring a surprise, come off the bench, serving as a second string in the guard rotation. Similarly, Landry Nnoko and Josh Smith are gifted big men, but they will almost certainly start behind the veteran Clemson frontcourt. Finally Jaron Blossomgame might be the slowest to be integrated into the rotation on account of a broken leg that he suffered last spring. Blossomgame, however, might be able to help the Tigers the most. Though he is small for an ACC power forward at 6’7″, he may be able to offer support at the swingman position, where Clemson only fields one prototypical small forward in K.J. McDaniels.
The heart of this Clemson team is going to be the senior starting frontcourt duo of Milton Jennings and Devin Booker. The two seniors are solid and dependable inside players with Booker the more consistent and gifted defensively. Jennings was a much-heralded five-star recruit when he came to Clemson, but he has never really managed to put it all together in the past few seasons. While he has shown sporadic flashes of offensive versatility, he’s been hampered by mistakes and inconsistency. In his three seasons as a Tiger, Jennings has never gotten higher than a 93.9 offensive efficiency rating, marks that are consistently below average on his own team. While it’s always possible that this will be the year that Jennings will put it all together and claim his star status, his personal history makes this seem unlikely.
After the two seniors, the rest of the returning players are all sophomores. K.J. McDaniels was the best of the bunch last year, quietly becoming the team’s best offensive rebounder and putting together efficient offensive games through careful shot selection. Rod Hall joined the starters at the end of last season as the ostensible starting point guard, though of course Andre Young tended to guard opposing point guards and Tanner Smith actually did most of the play-making. Still, Hall is the likely incumbent lead guard, with T.J Sapp as his running mate. The rest of the sophomore guards will likely still be playing back-up minutes until they show something or there is an injury. Damarcus Harrison and Carson Fields will be in this role, as would Devin Coleman if it weren’t for an ACL injury that likely has him out for the season
Finally, the team also returns Bernard Sullivan, a slight power forward who was supposed to be the crown jewel of last year’s freshman class but who ended up playing only spot minutes and looking confused and ineffective when he was out on the court. Hopefully, a year of experience is all it will take for Sullivan to begin to help his team.
Potential Breakout Player
Milton Jennings has occupied this spot for Clemson the past three years, but frankly, after he has consistently failed to deliver, I think it’s probably time for the Tigers to put their hopes on some other players. For this season, K.J. McDaniels seems a solid bet. McDaniels is a solid player who does enough of the little things right that he’s going to help his team win consistently. Last year he was the team’s best offensive rebounder, drew fouls at a significant clip, rarely turned the ball over, and led the team in blocked shot percentage. Not bad for a 6’5″ freshman coming off the bench. McDaniels has the potential to become a do-everything small forward who is going to help his team in more ways than just scoring, though he is the most efficient option among returning players. If McDaniels can handle a featured role for the Tigers, I think he can really help the team this season.
Clemson has scheduled its non-conference slate fairly aggressively. Competing in the Old Spice Classic will pit the Tigers against Gonzaga, either Oklahoma or UTEP, and one other team from a field that includes Vanderbilt, West Virginia, and Davidson. Clemson will face Purdue at home for the ACC/Big Ten Challenge and the rest of the non-conference schedule faces rematches against teams that beat them last year, including Arizona, South Carolina, and Coastal Carolina. It’s a pretty impressive set of games, offering the Tigers plenty of chances to snag big signature wins, but it’s also possible that the Tigers could lose every one of these games. It’s a daring bit of scheduling by Brad Brownell and his moxie should at least be applauded.
In conference play, Clemson will only have to face Duke and North Carolina once, although the encounter with Duke will come on the road. The Tigers are slated to play NC State and Florida State twice, but also get to play Boston College, Georgia Tech, and Virginia Tech twice as well. All in all, it’s a fairly favorable conference schedule for the Tigers, paired with an aggressive non-conference schedule.
Prediction and Conclusion
It’s hard to write off Devin Booker and Milton Jennings’ senior years as a rebuilding year, but that’s the hard truth when every other player on your team is an underclassman. Andre Young and Tanner Smith were incredibly talented players who are going to be very hard to replace, especially with barely seasoned players who have little-to-no experience in the ACC. The challenging non-conference schedule may give the Tigers a chance to get a landmark win, but it also seems like a way to crush the spirits of your young team before conference play even begins. The conference schedule is favorable to the Tigers and lots of players on the team will improve over the course of the year. None of that, however, offsets how young this team is. It’s a rebuilding year, but in terms of wins, Clemson is likely going to take a step backwards. A 7-11 season seems fairly likely in conference play and a break-even 9-9 mark would be a serious accomplishment.