ACC Preview: Clemson’s Burning Question

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on October 27th, 2015

This team preview is part of the RTC ACC microsite’s preseason coverage.

Will Clemson’s offense improve enough to make the Tigers an ACC winner?

Near the end of the 2014-15 season, we reviewed the pros and cons of Brad Brownell’s six-season tenure at Clemson. We concluded then that his positives and negatives have pretty much been a wash. The Tigers are usually competitive on the floor – especially on the defensive end — and well-behaved off the court. But a lack of elite-level talent has kept Clemson from being able to join the ACC’s upper tier, and the Tigers’ slow, offensively-challenged style of play has not exactly ignited the fan base. Can the Clemson faithful expect any improvement from a team that only loses a couple of key performers from last year? And if so, will it be enough improvement to keep Brownell off of the coaching hot seat? To search for those answers, let’s begin by looking at Brownell’s coaching profile over 13 years at three different schools.


The above table reveals that Brownell has some consistent historical head coaching traits. First of all, he has been a winner everywhere he’s been, sporting only one overall losing record (13-18 in 2013) during his career. Additionally, he likes to employ a slow tempo, with every one of his 13 squads finishing among the bottom 100 nationally in pace. Another thing that sticks out on Brownell’s resume is how well his teams play defense no matter the personnel. Conversely, a Brownell-coached squad has finished among the nation’s top 120 offenses on only four occasions. In two of those instances, Brownell was in his first year at a school, indicating that he may have inherited some players who could score. And maybe it’s no coincidence that both of those units (2003 UNC-Wilmington & 2011 Clemson) earned NCAA Tournament bids, representing two of the only three trips Brownell has made to the Big Dance. The other takeaway from Brownell’s profile is that by his fourth year at each of his first two head coaching gigs, he was able to develop pretty good offenses after a couple of down years. That kind of turnaround, however, has not yet happened at Clemson.

Unfortunately it’s hard to see this season playing out much differently. The Tigers will replace two departing seniors in the backcourt with a couple of new guards who are probably similar to them in talent and style. That means that, once again, we should expect Clemson to guard tenaciously on one end while struggling to make shots on the other. Freshman Ty Hudson and newly eligible transfer (San Francisco) Avry Holmes will battle for backcourt minutes along with senior Jordan Roper. It would help if Roper regained some confidence from beyond the arc, as his three-point shooting percentage has gotten progressively worse in each of the previous three seasons. Confidence does not seem to be a problem for Donte Grantham, who hoisted 145 threes (the most by a Tiger since Andre Young in 2012) last year as a freshman. Even though he only converted on 27.6 percent of those attempts, we can assume from Brownell’s green light that the coach thinks Grantham is a better shooter than he showed as a rookie. Other perimeter possibilities are returnees Austin Ajukwa and Gabe Devoe.

Brad Brownell looks for an improved offense to go with the always stingy Clemson 'D'. (Bart Boatwright/

Brad Brownell looks for an improved offense to go with the always stingy Clemson D. (Bart Boatwright/

After leading the Tigers in scoring and rebounding a season ago, Jaron Blossomgame returns for his junior campaign as one of the top forwards in the ACC. He will once again be backed up by senior Josh Smith. The middle will be manned by a trio of typical Clemson players; in other words, tough to score against but not gifted on the offensive end. Returning starter Landry Nnoko is one of the best rim-protectors (9.3 Block%) in the ACC, and both he and junior Sidy Djitte are excellent rebounders. Huge newcomer Legend Robertin (7’1″, 250 lbs.) joins the Tigers after one year at Chipola Junior College in Florida. The native of London, England, is known as an athletic player who can defend and run the floor but is not very skilled offensively. In other words, he’s going to fit right into Brownell’s system.

It appears that this Clemson team will closely resemble recent Tigers’ squads in both style and results. While Brownell’s group could be improved, it looks like most of the other schools in the ACC’s middle-of-the-pack could be better as well, making it difficult to make up any ground in the standings. Finally, Clemson will have to face the additional difficulty of playing its home games in Greenville (30 miles away) this season while renovations are ongoing at Littlejohn Coliseum. This could prove especially problematic for a program that has traditionally benefited from a strong home-court advantage. In fact, only the road-challenged Demon Deacons of Wake Forest have a bigger gap (+18) between home and away ACC wins over the last five years than Clemson (+16) during the Brownell era.

Brad Jenkins (383 Posts)

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