This team preview is part of the RTC ACC microsite’s preseason coverage. You will find a list with links to all the team previews on the ACC Microsite Preview Page, located here.
Will Brad Brownell keep surprising or will KJ McDaniels’ departure spell doom in the upstate?
Let’s be clear, Clemson was a lot better than most people gave it credit for last season. The Tigers made it to the semifinals of the NIT and went 4-8 against Ken Pomeroy’s top 50, with wins coming against Duke, Maryland, Illinois and Florida State. But they also had KJ McDaniels, and just like Clemson was underrated last season, so was he. He was one of the country’s best defenders, using more than 28 percent of Clemson’s possessions while remaining the most efficient player on the team. Now it’s a new year and McDaniels is getting paid to play for the 76ers. There aren’t any returning players in the ACC who could replace him, much less anybody on Brad Brownell’s current roster.
This year we know one thing: Clemson will play defense. The Tigers return most of their team other than McDaniels and Brownell’s teams always play defense. Seniors Rod Hall and Demarcus Harrison will be joined by Jaron Blossomgame, Jordan Roper and Landry Nnoko. Only Blossomgame was a freshman last year, so that’s a lot of available experience available to Brownell (albeit that experience would make for a short lineup). Blossomgame will likely find himself getting the majority of McDaniels’ old minutes. More interestingly — at least in the long-term — is Brownell bringing in consensus top-100 forward Donte Grantham and Gabe Devoe. Grantham is projected to start right away, and although Devoe wasn’t as highly touted, he lit up the scoreboard in high school (34.0 PPG), and he shot over 40 percent from deep with over 100 makes. Between Grantham’s size and Devoe’s scoring ability, look for these two freshmen to get immediate time. Brownell has struggled in recruiting ACC-caliber talent during his first four seasons, but these two players could mark a turning point in his acquisition of talent.
Having to rely on freshmen to carry an offense that was buoyed to mediocrity by a strong free throw percentage (74.4%) and solid offensive rebounding (33.8%) isn’t a recipe for consistency. And none of the current core has any experience in being a go-to player at this level, an issue that will manifest on nights when the jumpers aren’t falling. With such a strong top of the conference this season, this is probably a year when Clemson slips into the bottom third of the league. Whether that is enough to save Brownell’s job is anybody’s guess, but the future looks bright for the Tigers even if this one feels like a roller coaster.