Tigers face uphill battle in improving ACC
Clemson Facts & Figures
Last season: 13-18 overall (5-13 ACC)
Coach: Brad Brownell (51-45 at Clemson)
ACC projection: 14th
Postseason projection: None
The additions of former Big East powers Syracuse, Pitt and Notre Dame to an already-formidable ACC make that challenge even tougher — and Clemson must play all three on the road. Oh, and did we mention that Clemson will have no seniors on its roster?
Welcome to the new and improved ACC, Tigers.
Never discount Brownell’s ability to squeeze as much as possible from his teams, but improving on 2012-13’s mark and getting back to .500 will be a difficult challenge. Clemson lost two of its top three scorers from last season and will return only one player who averaged more than 7.9 points per game — junior wing K.J. McDaniels, who averaged 10.9 per game.
Brownell was allowed some extra time to mold his team: The Tigers took a 10-day visit to Italy in August, which included four games against Italian teams as well as 10 pre-trip practices.
But for real improvement, Clemson must polish its skills, toughness and perhaps, most important, its leadership.
“I think leadership has to come from the players, and I don’t think it did this year,” Brownell said after last season. “I think that was part of our problem. When you see a team do what we did, there’s an indication of no clear direction. When a team is coach-directed, it’s never as good as it is when a team is player-directed.”
Say this for the Tigers’ frontcourt: It does not lack for opportunity.
With the graduation of Devin Booker (third-team All-ACC pick last season) and Milton Jennings (10.2 ppg, 6.4 rpg) and the transfer of Bernard Sullivan (1.8 ppg, 1.3 rpg) to Charlotte, Clemson returns a combined of 2.1 points and 2.6 rebounds per game from post players Landry Nnoko and Josh Smith, both of whom appeared raw in limited action as freshmen.
Small forward Jaron Blossomgame is one of the most high-regarded players on the roster, but he was forced to redshirt last season following a slow recovery from a compound leg fracture suffered in May 2012. He underwent a second procedure on the leg in June but was expected to be ready for the beginning of preseason workouts in October.
Brownell bolstered the roster with a pair of spring signees in 6-10 junior college transfer Ibrahim Djambo and 6-10 Senegal prospect Sidy Djitte.
Djambo and Nnoko figure to have the inside track toward starting roles.
There are certainly reasons to be excited about the Tigers’ backcourt despite some youth and lingering injuries. McDaniels emerged as an athletic playmaker capable of highlight-reel dunks, but Brownell wants him to improve his outside shooting to diversify his offensive repertoire.
Jordan Roper became a solid member of the rotation as a freshman, shooting 41.4 percent from 3-point range while averaging 7.9 points per game. He, too, must take another step forward in his development.
Junior Rod Hall is a steady, if unspectacular point guard who plays solid defense; he averaged 5.7 points and 3.5 assists as a sophomore and, along with McDaniels, will serve as a team leader. Adonis Filer hopes to build on an up-and-down freshman campaign that was highlighted by his 21-point outburst against The Citadel. Sophomore Devin Coleman — who redshirted last winter after rupturing his Achilles tendon — and freshman Patrick Rooks will provide some solid shooting whenever needed.
Patrick Rooks, a 6-3 shooting guard, is expected to bring immediate shooting ability, while fellow 3-star swingman Austin Ajukwa is a more versatile player who could fit as a 2 guard or small forward. Ibrahim Djambo, a 6-10 junior college transfer, should see immediate playing time in the post. Another spring signee, 6-10 big man Sidy Djitte, chose Clemson over Cincinnati and Memphis.
Factoid: 5. Clemson took a total of five charges in 31 games last season. It says a lot about the Tigers’ overall toughness, something that must change to compete in the improved ACC.
Poor recruiting by Oliver Purnell in his final months at Clemson — as well as a roster exodus following the transition from Purnell’s up-tempo style to Brownell’s motion offense — has left the Tigers in a difficult spot in the ever-improving ACC.
Four consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances are starting to look like a distant memory, and unless you’re Kentucky, winning with no seniors on the roster is not a recipe for success.
Brownell is an excellent coach, but this looks like a season to build, take some lumps and learn. A .500 record would be an excellent accomplishment.