Thursday, December 12, 2013
season preview: Clemson
Media prediction: 14th of 15
Record: 13-18 (5-13); ACC 11th seed
KenPom: 124th of 347
Returning scoring: 61.1%
Returning rebounding: 51.2%
Returning assists: 72.5%
1st team: none
2nd team: none
3rd team: none
(Italics indicate departed player.)
PG: Rod Hall (Jr.)
SG: Damarcus Harrison (Jr.)
SF: K.J. McDaniels (Jr.)
PF: Jaron Blossomgame (rFr.)
C: Landry Nnoko (So.)
G Jordan Roper (So.)
G Devin Coleman (rSo.)
G Adonis Filer (So.)
F Ibrahim Djambo (Jr.)
F Josh Smith (So.)
C Sidy Djitte (Fr.)
F Austin Ajukwa (Fr.)
Coach: Brad Brownell (4th season)
Twice: Florida State, Georgia Tech, Pittsburgh, Wake Forest
Once: Boston College, Duke, Maryland, Miami, North Carolina, NC State, Notre Dame, Syracuse, Virginia, Virginia Tech
Let's face it: it sort of feels right somehow that Clemson has a very good football team and not a great basketball team. Like the universe is just a little bit back in order. The media seemed to think so, voting Clemson the second-worst team in the league in the preseason poll. The Tigers lost two of their top three player (Devin Booker and Milton Jennings) from a team that was pretty bad to begin with, so the vote wasn't a surprise.
In truth, this team is similar to the one we just previewed in many ways. There's a little less fiddling with the starting lineup, because it's pretty clear who the best players are. Off the bench, though, that's still a work in progress. Not least because Brad Brownell is close to desperate in finding some frontcourt depth.
The starters in the frontcourt aren't an issue. You have to start with K.J. McDaniels, far and away the team's best player. McDaniels is a tremendously athletic forward with a dangerous shot. Possibly his most impressive numbers are his blocks and fouls - he's close to three blocks a game but commits just one and a half fouls per 40 minutes. Pretty astounding. Plus, over a steal per game, almost 19 ppg, and he rebounds a little too. McDaniels is one of the conference's best players, one that all 14 other teams would find room for in the starting lineup.
Plus, sophomore center Landry Nnoko is developing into a very solid defender, and freshman forward Jaron Blossomgame, after spending last year recovering from a broken leg, shows a fair bit of promise. Otherwise, though, twin 6'10" towers Ibrahim Djambo (a juco transfer) and Sidy Djitte are still seeing fluctuating minutes and playing small roles at most, and Josh Smith is frustrating Clemson fans with inconsistency. Clemson has the bodies to throw into the frontcourt, no doubt about it, but needs to see some of them continue to develop because Smith isn't the only inconsistent one.
Clemson's guards are mostly respectable, but lacking in star power. Point guard Rod Hall is shouldering more of the scoring load this year, so far nearly doubling his ppg average from last season, and doing it without sacrificing distribution or ball control as he did last year when he turned his focus to the basket. But defenders don't respect his jumper and he's awful from beyond the arc. That applies to shooting guard Damarcus Harrison, too; Harrison is more invisible than you usually prefer out of your two-guard.
Off the bench, Jordan Roper is Clemson's only true, consistent three-point threat other than McDaniels, but Roper is 5'11" and an abysmal shooter from two. Backup point guard Adonis Filer has started off the season shooting very well, but has to continue to do so in order to be considered a true threat - he was just a notch over .300 last year. The same for Devin Coleman, who is 7-of-16 from three this year (and, interestingly, from two as well) but hit just 3-for-21 last season.
Clemson has really, really good defensive efficiency numbers, the result of putting some long-armed bodies on the floor and daring opponents to shoot over or around. They'll probably be tough to score on all season long, because it doesn't matter who they settle on to fill out the frontcourt rotation, they'll be looonngg. And they'll have McDaniels to swat shots; Blossomgame and Nnoko are no slouches in that department either.
But they've struggled, and will probably continue to struggle, to find offensive consistency. When they click, they've blown some teams out. When they don't, they let teams like South Carolina State hang around; during that game, Clemson had scored only eight points nearly halfway through the first half. Good teams (UMass and Arkansas) haven't had a lot of trouble with the Tigers. With McDaniels around, Clemson is a threat at any time, but he needs more help to get Clemson into the tournament. As it stands, the Tigers could finish perhaps a game or two on either side of .500 in the conference, but this looks like a safe-bet NIT team at best. That would be an improvement over last year, and their preseason projection too, but they don't feature a single senior on their roster and are a year away from peaking.