ACC Burning Questions: Clemson Tigers

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on October 27th, 2017

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

Burning Question: Does Brad Brownell need to reach the NCAA Tournament this season to keep his job?

It’s rare for ACC coaches to survive a stretch of five consecutive years not making the NCAA Tournament, but in a move that surprised many observers, Clemson head coach Brad Brownell was asked to return for another season after missing the Big Dance for the sixth year in a row. This looks like it will be another hot-seat kind of year for the beleaguered coach as he tries to finally get his Tigers over the hump.

Brad Brownell returns for his eighth season at Clemson despite not making the NCAA Tournament for the last six years. (AP Photo)

Star Jaron Blossomgame has departed, but there is a strong veteran nucleus intact. Leading the way is a trio of former transfers who are now in their third year with the program. Two of those players make up one of the most underrated backcourts in the league — point guard Shelton Mitchell and wing Marcquise Reed. Mitchell began his career at Vanderbilt and was slightly hampered by a knee injury going into his redshirt sophomore year; still, he led the team in assists (103) and was the Tigers’ second leading scorer at 10.8 points per game. His running mate Reed was a conference Rookie of the Year at Robert Morris before making the jump to  the ACC. Some wondered how he would handle the higher level of competition, but the sweet-shooting guard proved he belonged with a 115.3 offensive rating and a solid scoring average (10.0 PPG) off the bench. Both Mitchell (45.3% 3FG) and Reed (40.2% 3FG) are capable shooters from deep. The third impact transfer from a year ago, 6’9″ Elijah Thomas, figures to be the Tigers’ best big man this season. After joining the team last December, he became a key defensive cog in Brownell’s system, where he was was a good shot-blocker (7.5% block rate) and demonstrated active hands (2.5% steal rate) on the front line. Yet another transfer, 6’8″ junior David Skara, joins the Tigers after a redshirt year. Skara had a fairly significant role as a sophomore in a good mid-major program, Valparaiso, in averaging 6.5 PPG.

In addition to that strong junior class, three seniors should also see major roles for the Tigers this season. Starting forward Donte Grantham hopes to regain his shooting touch after shooting just 38.3 percent from the floor and 32.5 percent from three-point range. Likewise, Gabe Devoe must be more accurate — he converted only 32.3 percent from deep last year — if he is going to again launch 133 three-point attempts. This past spring, Brownell grabbed a good graduate transfer, 6’9″ Mark Donnal, from Michigan. Donnal posted solid numbers as a sophomore for the Wolverines — 7.8 PPG and 3.7 RPG — but his minutes shrank as a junior playing behind two future pros. More depth will come from this year’s freshmen class. Guards Anthony Oliver (redshirt last year) and Clyde Trapp, along with forward Aamir Simms, should be ready to handle supporting roles.

For the Tigers to make a move up the ACC standings (6-12, 12th place last season), they are going to have to improve their performance in close games. Clemson last year went 0-6 in its ACC games that were decided by three points or fewer. And it’s not just a one-year thing — over the past six years, Brownell has only won 34 percent of Clemson’s one-possession league games. At most ACC schools, Brownell would have been long gone by now, but Clemson’s recent football success has somewhat shielded focus on the continuously mediocre basketball program. If history proves anything, even another miss of the Big Dance could result in Brownell keeping his job so long as the Tigers are competitive.

Brad Jenkins (383 Posts)

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