The 2010-11 Tiger basketball team is coming off a successful, though somewhat disappointing, 2009-10 campaign where they finished 21-11 overall and 9-7 in ACC play, good for 6th in the conference. Gone is the man who rebuilt the program from the depths that Larry Shyatt drove us into, but a man who had worn off some of the luster he engendered during his prior seasons. TDP conducted another sham of a coaching search, nearly shackling us with various also-rans no one has heard of and Rick Stansbury. Thankfully Miss. State had a big enough buyout that we balked, and Sleepy actually interviewed a solid candidate after talking with Rick Barnes, Digger Phelps, and Jay Bilas. Now we have that new coach, Brad Brownell, that will try to get the Tigers over the hump in the NCAAs and the conference and try to keep this thing going.
Brownell is regarded as a more offensive-minded coach than Purnell. His trademark offense is a motion not dissimilar from Purnell’s (primarily) 3-out 2-in system, though no two motion offenses are exactly the same. His defense has been tight man/man with a little 2-3 zone as a changeup. One of the big complaints against Purnell’s style in ACC play was the inability to execute in the half-court set, which is Brownell’s biggest selling point in our opinion. Clemson should definitely improve on offense, and if the defense plays well, there should be another NCAA berth in store for us next March.
Brownell: "The veterans have been good and are enjoying learning some new things. I think they’re enjoying playing a little bit of a different way. We’re still aggressive defensively, we’re just not zone-pressing the whole time. It’s still an aggressive man defense. And it probably is even more aggressive in the halfcourt. But the offense is still hard for them. It’s still a different offense and it’s not one that comes easy."
The ’09 campaign was highlighted by a home spanking of then-ranked UNC, but in every other respect it appeared to be the same kind of season as before: we would start out dominant, then slowly fade away in Mid-January or February as teams figured out ways to beat the Diamond Press and our general lack of offensive strategy cost us big games. The late-season sloppyness on defense, due to the wear and tear the Press put on our own players or some other factor with coaching, was always pitiful to watch. This was a frequent complaint of many who had grown to dislike Purnell, and though we here at STS gave the man credit for building a solid team where there was none, it wore down our faith that he was the right man to get us to a Final Four.
Still, Clemson basketball is in better or as good a shape as it ever has been in history. We've won more games the last few years than ever before. We're recruiting better than we have since the days when Horace Grant and Dale Davis were here. Unfortunately in Brownell’s first few months on the job, we lost recruiting steam, and lost out on Damien Leonard, a Guard who I felt would be tailor-made for this offense (but who has been repeatedly dropped in every Rivals ranking). We let Marcus Thornton go from his LOI. Phil Korncoot and Roy Philpott cost us Murphy Holloway, who would’ve been a key contributor this season with the loss of Trevor Booker. Now we're down to 10 scholarship players, and thats a thin bench folks. Thankfully, Brownell has picked up the pace since then and brought in Bernard Sullivan and T.J. Sapp, but they are another year away. My only qualm with Brownell was his recruiting assistants, and at least initially it seems to be going well. Its somewhat unreasonable to expect a new coach to hold onto basketball recruits, as dirty as this business is. Look for CU to try to get a few transfers into school next Spring.
I’ve argued with myself over and over about whether we will truly miss Booker. Trevor was always a potentially great player, but was very frustrating to watch last season. He took entire games off at times. His PPG average dropped, though some of that is attributed to the lack of any outside threat, but so did his rebounding, which is 90% hustle. Trevor Booker rarely showed hustle unless the team was winning and winning big, something that made us feel like he was never mentally prepared or mature enough to be a leader of that team. However, this is a new season, and 15ppg can be replaced. We will need several guys to pick up the slack, and we do have some young talented players who got plenty of PT last season. Given their potential and Brownell’s X’s and O’s capability on offense, we think guys like Noel Johnson, Milton Jennings, Demontez Stitt and Andre Young should all be able to raise their averages enough to offset Booker’s loss. Devin Booker may be the eventual 5 player after Jerai Grant leaves, but when we go big he’ll be in at the 4, and he’ll need to realize his offensive potential.
The biggest question mark for this year’s team is the lack of a pure shooter, and it is one that has not been addressed. Terrance Oglesby’s loss was felt last year and opponents zoned us and collapsed all night on Booker, while everyone outside missed their shots once ACC play started. If guys like Tanner Smith, Noel Johnson or Andre Young cannot hit the 3-point shot, we’re in for a world of hurt. Tanner must do better at the Wing to keep his job, but I do see Noel Johnson eventually getting that spot. The lack of a true Point Guard has also not been addressed: both Young and Stitt are more suited for the 2, and God help us if Tanner Smith has the ball at the Point. We like Tanner’s effort and hustle, but it doesn’t completely make up for his lack of talent. Young is a 2G in the body of a PG. Hopefully Brownell’s system will help guys create shots, because they did not excel at creating their own shot from the perimeter previously. Good motion systems don’t require an outstanding PG, so there is hope for us offensively without one.
A major complaint from last season is alluded to above: ballhandling. Stitt continued to develop as a player, but commits nearly 3 TO per game just due to sloppyness. Tanner Smith is a nightmare handling the ball. David Potter is (thankfully) history. Milton Jennings was dreadful for half the season last year, then the light came on for him, but his ballhandling was pretty weak all season, in this system the 4 can play in or out, and to play outside he’ll need to work on those skills.
Another big question is mental toughness. Oliver Purnell could never instill it. Can Brad Brownell? The last two seasons have seen us come apart with generally sloppy play at the worst times. The defense nearly always let up enough in intensity for our opponent to get into it, and then our offensive game followed suit.
The final item we will assess (and continue to look at) is this staff's ability to cultivate the '09 freshman class moving forward. This group came to school with the most hype that I can remember out of an incoming CU bball class out of high school. The big three rising Sophomores (Jennings, Johnson, and Booker) will need to step up for this team to move forward. I will admit that I was a little disappointed with the production this season, but probably bought into the excitement a little more than I should have. Clemson will need to develop either Jennings or Johnson into a mid- to outside threat shooting the ball. With one year complete, the progression of this young group will be under the microscope from the opening tip next season, as the Tiger's fortunes will ride on improvement gained in this off-season. We are hoping to see more poised and aggressive play as this team moves forward without the elder Booker brother.
Outlook and Predictions
Clemson comes into this season picked 7th by the ACC Media, but I don’t feel there will be much separation from 4th-8th in this conference. It will come down to one or two key games, and we’ll need road wins against the lesser opponents, just like always.
We asked what you thought when Brownell was hired, and most folks expected us to be at the 20-win level and in the NCAAs, and this is what we will judge Brownell by this season. We will, however, give him 4 years to win us over. We went into Brownell’s record and history when he was hired, so take a look for his background. He's built some good 20-win teams instantly, so we don't think you were unreasonable.
Clemson under Purnell was most successful when they created cheap points and turnovers in transition. The Tigers were quick to apply full court pressure to teams and, when this strategy created turnovers, the Tigers were successful. Against good teams who could handle the ball and break the press, the tables were turned on our squad as Clemson struggled in half court sets.
Clemson’s half court offense was extremely frustrating to watch at times. Clemson did not have great ball handling over the course of last season and struggled when Stitt was injured and others were moved around to take up this loss. Clemson also did not move well without the ball, further compounding woes related to getting better looks at the basket. The Tigers will absolutely have to establish an outside jump shot threat as teams collapsed on Booker last season in the paint. We have already questioned Booker’s effort at times last year but will admit that his job would have been easier if there was a perimeter threat to take some of the pressure off of T. Book.
This is not a total doom and gloom story, though. Clemson has a very talented group of young players who were highly thought of coming into school. If this group can live up to its hype Clemson will be just fine. Bringing in more of an X’s and O’s offensive coach like Brad Brownell gives some hope that we can strategically create more open looks and enjoy more options than trying to have Stitt simply create off the dribble or have to force the ball into the paint.
This offense will live or die by how much our young talent developed from last Spring to today and how well we can shoot from the outside to create more options. Overall I see Clemson finishing just above the 20 win mark and splitting its conference games. This should be good enough (especially if this team can win an ACC tourney game) to get a decent seed in the NCAA’s under the new tourney policy.
From an overall program perspective this is a lateral performance but with Clemson’s basketball history and a new coach at the helm, I won’t get too greedy and demand for too much more just yet. If you would have told me a few years ago that Clemson’s basketball program would be in position to expect a 0.500 conference record I would have been tickled pink.
DrB: My prediction is that we'll have some teething issues in the non-conference schedule, but should be ranked at the low end of the Top 25 coming into January. We have Old Dominion (Tournament), Michigan, and FSU early this season so I don't see us going undefeated by any means. From there I think we go 8-8 to 9-7 in conference play and get just over the 20 win mark, maybe up to 23. That should lock up a NCAA berth and I'd consider the season a success if that happened.
Brownell's Preseason Press Conference
On a separate note, as you all know we are both football guys, so we won't devote much time to basketball at all until after the first of December. With our more restrictive work schedules this year, its going to be difficult for us to adequately cover basketball -- two sports and recruiting through February and then spring football and baseball proved too much last year. So, we are looking to add another writer for basketball. If you would like to do it, please contact us with your take on the Tigers' games this month. Most of the upcoming games will be TigerCast and folks wont see them, so we would like reviews written, and you may just send them to us or use fanposts yourself.
Some requests that we have:
1. Decent grammar and punctuation. We're not grammar nazis here, and usually I end up banning people who come in and complain about where I forgot to put a colon, but I can't edit each article before it goes up, and it needs to be readable.
2. Don't be a blatant homer. Tell people what you think one way or the other, but don't be PC or uncritical when you see mistakes that can be corrected. Writing from an optimistic view is one thing, and given the new coach we expect it, but just ignoring problems is something else entirely.
3. Basketball knowledge. If you played, coached it (even kids), or just watch a ton of basketball, write a review. We need someone who can write with some credibility and understands the game.
4. Be able to keep up with basketball recruiting in the offseason, and watch a large majority of the games. I don't get to watch them all, not until ACC play, but we know with this many games people will miss a few. You do need to be able to watch them though, whether you have season tickets or live in a fortunate enough area to get the glorious Raycom telecasts (which parts of our state can't get).