Monday, December 13, 2010

season preview: Clemson

Clemson Tigers

Media prediction: 7th

Last season:

Record: 21-11 (9-7) - ACC 6th seed
Postseason: NCAA 7 seed; lost in first round
KenPom: 20th of 347

Returning scoring: 69.7%
Returning rebounding: 59.7%
Returning assists: 70.7%

2009-'10 All-ACC:

1st team: F Trevor Booker
2nd team: none
3rd team: none
Rookie: none
Defensive: F Trevor Booker


G: Andre Young (Jr.)
G: Demontez Stitt (Sr.)
G: Tanner Smith (Jr.)
PF: Jerai Grant (Sr.)
C: Devin Booker (So.)


F Milton Jennings (So.)
G Cory Stanton (Fr.)
F Bryan Narcisse (Jr.)

Coach: Brad Brownell (1st season)


Once: Boston College (H), Duke (A), Maryland (A), Virginia (A), Virginia Tech (H), Wake Forest (H)
Twice: Florida State, Georgia Tech, Miami, North Carolina, NC State

The perception has been that Brad Brownell walked into the best situation of any of the new ACC coaches of the past couple years. Clemson's a tournament team with plenty of returning tournament talent, and the coaching change wasn't because the team was underperforming, it was because Oliver Purnell up and left all of a sudden for DePaul. Nobody's really figured out the inner workings of Purnell's mind yet, but it took away one of my most foolproof rules for filling out my yearly brackets: when in doubt, never bet on Oliver Purnell.

Anyway, Brownell's job might be tougher than it appears. The flip side of walking into a good situation is that you don't want to be the guy who screws it up, and thanks to the usual growing pains when a new coach installs a new system, there will always be people who think you did.

Purnell's basic plan was to run around the court a lot, press a ton, tire out the other team, and not concern himself overmuch with nitpicky things like where were your feet on that screen. Just out-athlete the other team, run some plays to take advantage of that, and let the chips fall where they may. Brownell, like most coaches, is more of a system coach. Not much full-court pressing any more and more emphasis on being in the right place at the right time. Clemson is a veteran group that's not used to this, and they've been unimpressive so far as a result. Their depth took a slight hit, too, with the loss of forward Noel Johnson, who quit the team and will transfer at the end of the semester.

Clemson is not a big team, but they're fairly well-rounded in the scoring department, the exception to that being they have no really dependable three-point shooter. The go-to player, if there is one, is Demontez Stitt, a talented but not especially frightening player with average size. The diminutive Andre Young is the closest thing Clemson has to a point guard, and Tanner Smith is a third guard in the lineup who operates as something of a quasi-small forward. All can score; none will take over a game.

The primary frontcourt rotation is a trio of similarly-sized players in Jerai Grant, Devin Booker, and Milton Jennings, all of whom see more or less equal time on the court the same as the three guards. Again, all can score, none can dominate. Purnell's philosophy didn't leave much room for a tall, shot-blocking center, and none of these guys are proper fives. The mold calls for a bulldozing power forward, ideally a Mike Scott type. Grant is the closest they have to that, but he's little more than a facsimile, albeit one who blocks a lot more shots (he's got 1.6 per game so far this year and 1.7 last year.) If Clemson needs a really tall guy in the lineup for defensive purposes, they'll go to their bench for 7'2" Romanian center Catalin Baciu.

If this all sounds like damning with faint praise, it kind of is. The upside of Clemson's lineup is that you have to be disciplined on defense and not wander away from anyone, because most of the time, all five players on the court are a threat to score. But not a major threat to score, not if you play your assignment. There are no game-breakers in the rotation, nobody that's a real threat to explode and carry his team to victory when the rest of the team isn't up to snuff. And they're a conference bottom-dweller when it comes to three-point shooting (a major bonus for UVA when it comes time for that game.) Stitt can occasionally go off, but he's more likely to score some of the quietest 15 points you've ever seen on a basketball court. Part of this is because the new system won't let anyone go off on an athletic freak show, but in fairness to Brownell the numbers (from KenPom) didn't bear out the frenetic, run'n'gun reputation of Purnell's teams. This is a veteran team with plenty of returning talent, and as such should be competitive most nights in the conference. But a middling finish is in the cards, and (having blown their chances at any quality OOC wins unless you count a future matchup at Charleston) so is an NIT berth.

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