Is 2016-17 the season in which everything for Clemson comes together and lands the Tigers back in the NCAA Tournament? Brad Brownell and the Tigers certainly hope so. Five seasons have passed since Brownell took Clemson to the NCAAs in his debut, with only one NIT bid in the interim.
Clemson has been in the NCAA Tournament discussion the last two seasons but slipped out of the NIT entirely both times. Last year, Clemson lost four of its final five games and blew an 18-point second-half lead to Georgia Tech in the ACC Tournament.
“We need to make the [NCAA] Tournament,” Brownell told reporters following the 2015-16 season. “It’s what we want to do, believe me, but I also think that’s a little bit of outside anxiousness that would lead to nothing productive for me. I think we’re right there.”
The Tigers got a huge boost when All-ACC forward Jaron Blossomgame turned down a likely NBA Draft selection to return for his senior season. He joins a transfer-bolstered roster that will play in newly renovated Littlejohn Coliseum. The pieces are in place for an NCAA run. Can Brownell make them all fit?
All ACC predictions and a full preview of each team in the conference can be found in the Athlon Sports 2016-17 Preview Magazine, available in our online store and on newsstands everywhere.
At a Glance
HEAD COACH: Brad Brownell
2015-16 RECORD (ACC): 17–14 (10–8)
2015-16 POSTSEASON: None
2016-17 PREDICTION: 11th in ACC
C Landry Nnoko (8.1 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 2.3 bpg)
G Jordan Roper (8.8 ppg, 3.8 apg)
Blossomgame’s decision to return following an impressive NBA scouting combine performance was a shot in the arm. Blossomgame, well, blossomed into an All-ACC first-teamer as a junior, scoring 18.7 points and grabbing 6.7 rebounds per game. He was the No. 3 scorer in the ACC and became the first player in CU history to shoot at least 50 percent overall, 40 percent from 3-point range and make 75 percent of his free throws. He’s a versatile, athletic, all-around performer.
“Jaron wants to be a first-round draft pick, and in some ways that’s why he’s coming back,” Brownell says.
Junior forward Donte Grantham also has good range; the 6'8", 210-pounder led Clemson in 3-pointers and averaged 10.2 points per game, but he can still improve his night-to-night consistency.
Wiry 6'10" senior center Sidy Djitte was an active presence at the rim, averaging 5.3 points and 5.2 rebounds in only 15.2 minutes per game. He can also contribute as a shot blocker and will be counted on more heavily.
Legend Robertin, a 7'0", 250-pound junior, provides quality frontcourt depth.
The X-factor will be sophomore forward Elijah Thomas, a former top-50 recruit who transferred from Texas A&M after averaging 3.8 points and 2.5 rebounds in his short stint (eight games) as an Aggie. He is 6'9", 230 pounds and will provide instant size and skill once he becomes eligible in mid-December.
One of Clemson’s biggest weaknesses last winter involved inconsistent guard play. The Tigers finished 14th in the ACC in scoring (69.6 ppg) and 12th in field goal percentage (.437).
Help has arrived, however, in the form of a pair of transfers who sat out last season. Sophomore Marcquise Reed stands 6'4" and brings instant offense. He was the Northeast Conference Rookie of the Year after averaging 15.1 points per game in 2014-15 and should challenge for a starting shooting guard role. He averaged 22.3 points per game against ACC foes Clemson, Duke and North Carolina while at Robert Morris.
Shelton Mitchell also brings solid size and passing ability; he is 6'3", 190 pounds and had more than 100 assists while starting 11 games as a freshman for Vanderbilt in 2014-15. He will combine with senior Avry Holmes to give Clemson two solid point guards. Holmes was the team’s No. 3 scorer at 10.0 points per game.
Gabe DeVoe also hopes to improve his spot in the rotation. He’s a solid outside shooter.
Former Robert Morris shooting guard Marcquise Reed will challenge for immediate playing time, as will former Vanderbilt point guard Shelton Mitchell. And Texas A&M transfer Elijah Thomas is a former top-50 recruit who’ll provide punch up front when he’s eligible in December. Guard Scott Spencer is a talented shooter. A.J. Oliver plans to enroll in January and will redshirt.
Make no mistake — 2016-17 is a pivotal season for Brownell. Clemson fans are a patient sort, but their patience isn’t infinite, and expectations will be higher with Blossomgame’s return and a renovated Littlejohn Coliseum. Getting off to a better start will be crucial; losses to the likes of Gardner-Webb, Winthrop, UMass and Minnesota hampered the past two NCAA drives. Brownell must avoid those type of pitfalls while integrating talented transfers into the rotation.
The ACC is not a forgiving league, but the Tigers have the talent to break through and get back to the NCAAs for the first time since 2011.