Brad Brownell’s Days May be Numbered at ClemsonPosted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on February 14th, 2017
It’s been six long years since Clemson has been invited to the Big Dance, and based on recent history, we are likely witnessing Brad Brownell’s farewell ACC campaign. Just six weeks ago, the prospect of the Tigers ending their NCAA drought looked promising — a 10-2 mark in non-conference play included four wins over Power Five schools. After a comeback road win over Wake Forest to begin ACC play, however, the bottom has since dropped out. Clemson now rests near the bottom of the ACC with a conference record of 3-9. Saturday’s 64-62 loss at Duke was a typical outcome, as six of the Tigers’ ACC defeats have been by five points or fewer. Now holding an overall record of 13-11 going into tonight’s rematch against Wake Forest, Clemson faces a steep uphill climb to earn an NCAA bid and save Brownell’s job.
There was considerable discussion of Duke’s emotional state entering Saturday’s meeting with Clemson, tipping off just 38 hours after the Blue Devils’ draining win over rival North Carolina. But Clemson was also dealing with negative vibes stemming from its own gut-wrenching last second loss to Syracuse. In Saturday’s postgame press conference, Brownell commented, “You know, give our kids a lot of credit; we took a major punch in the gut this week on that loss against Syracuse. We’ve been a little snake-bit, but at the end of the day we’ve got to figure out ways to make the winning plays to change these things.” Mike Krzyzewski echoed Brownell’s view by saying, “I feel bad for Brad’s team because I have watched six of their games. Five that I watched, they could have won easy with one possession. This was another one, and that is the heartbreak of our league.”
Brownell’s sentiment that the Tigers have been somewhat unlucky this season is an accurate one (267th nationally, per KenPom), but it’s very hard to turn things around when that self-awareness sets in. It often seems as if Clemson is a step or two away but just can’t put it all together. In Brownell’s first five seasons at the school, the Tigers were always strong defensively — finishing among KenPom’s top 60 teams in defensive efficiency every year. In the last couple of years, however, Brownell’s two best offensive squads have been negated by his weakest defensive units. And then there’s that squishy notion of luck — Clemson’s opponents this season are making a superb 76.7 percent of their foul shots, the highest mark of free throw accuracy among all 351 Division I teams.
Clemson has always been a football school first and that attitude has only increased with the Tigers’ recent back-to-back appearances in the College Football Playoff championship game. While success on the gridiron can deflect attention and enthusiasm away from hoops, it can correspondingly also provide a veritable shield for a struggling basketball coach. In this case, however, the shield may be diminishing. Other factors at play at Clemson are that the school’s current athletic director, Dan Radakovich, did not hire Brownell, and the basketball program recently spent millions to upgrade its facilities and remodel Liitlejohn Coliseum. The clear expectation is that the school should have a better product in basketball than it is getting.
Even if the Tigers squeak into the NCAA Tournament this season, it may not be enough to save Brownell’s job. Clemson administration may already have its eye on alumnus Will Wade, currently 20-5 (10-2 Atlantic 10) doing impressive work at VCU. Regarded as a rising young star within the coaching ranks, Wade may be a hot commodity this spring if the Rams do well in the postseason. While this season is not yet over, Clemson may want to take a cue from the rumored activity at NC State and jump into that race as soon as it possibly can.