Before the season began, I put forth what I believed were moderate expectations for this season. I knew two things definitively going into the season: 1) Clemson lost its two best players from last season and 2) the ACC is still way down, maybe more so than the 2010-2011 season. I thought if we could play hard-nosed defense like last year, knock down enough open jumpers, and get steady improvement from Milton Jennings and Devin Booker that we’d mitigate the losses of Grant and Stitt and be able to finish around 8-8 in the ACC. 8-8 in a down ACC where Duke and UNC are going to be in the 14-2/13-3 range would be good enough for a 4th-7th place finish depending on how things shake out.
Well after watching the first half of the season, which includes bad losses to Coastal Carolina, South Carolina, UTEP, and Hawaii, we're going to have to readjust our expectations. Out of those four teams, Coastal Carolina has the best RPI at #146. Sitting at 8-6 heading into ACC play is very disappointing. Even in a rebuilding year we shouldn’t be losing to so many bad teams.
Clemson is really only doing two of the three things that I thought would make us competitive. While our defense has more mental lapses this year than last, we are performing well enough on that end of the court to win ball games. Right now opponents are averaging just 0.91 points per possession against us, which is good enough for 46th best in the country. We’re also doing OK at cleaning up the defensive glass, giving up offensive rebounds just 27.5% of the time (32nd nationally). Keep in mind that these numbers are not adjusted for competition, and as we all know, we haven’t played the toughest schedule this year. I expect to see these numbers rise when we get into ACC play.
So why are we struggling so much? We don’t have anybody on the roster that can break down a defense and either score one on one or find an open man for an easy bucket. When we do get wide open looks we cannot knock them down. We are a terrible shooting team (26.9% from three) that takes far too many deep shots for the personnel we have. So what’s an offense to do if they don’t have guys that can make plays off the bounce or shooters that can knock down shots coming off of screens? Dump it inside to your big men and let them operate. The problem with that for Clemson is that we don’t have anybody that can score consistently or draw double teams in the post either. There’s a reason that Ohio State leads the country in 3-point FG%. Jared Sullinger is doubled every time he touches the ball and they have shooters that can knock down wide open looks. Andre Young would be able to shoot a much higher percentage from 3 if our big men could draw the defense away from him to give him open looks.
On top of all of that, we don't have a true point guard and we haven't since BB has been here. Andre Young is a 2-guard that is limited due to his height. He has to rely on other guys to get him looks. TJ Sapp is a combo guard. Rod Hall is a physical defender without a true offensive position. A point guard is supposed to be the leader of the team. They're the quarterback that makes everything go. It's no wonder that we go through long scoring droughts because we don't have a QB to pull us together and get us an easy basket. It's no wonder that we lack leadership, as the QB is generally relied on to be the leader.
Milton Jennings and Devin Booker have not progressed the way they should’ve heading into their junior seasons. Jennings may have even regressed, if that’s possible. He has completely lost whatever confidence he had and is extremely tentative in his decision making. The main reason he turns the ball over so much is that he isn’t sure what to do with it when he gets it. His mindset appears to be 1/3 shoot, 1/3 pass, and 1/3 dribble. This leads to him finding himself in between decisions and making errant passes and clanging easy shots. Do you think Barry Sanders thought about the juke he’d put on a guy as he was coming up to the line of scrimmage? No. His moves were instinctive. Basketball is the same way. If you think too much you are bound to make mistakes. If you think about a shot too much you are bound to miss it. I think his problem is that he is thinking too much and lacks basketball instincts. Can that be fixed? Probably not....
Devin shows occasional signs of life, but is not consistent enough because he doesn’t put forth maximum effort for 40 minutes each night. He has the strength and athleticism to be a force down low, even with his lack of touch and low post scoring moves, if he would just give 100% each night. Thus far he has been lazier than his brother was, which is pretty bad. At least Trevor would get pissed every so often and play hard. Trevor attacked the basket with a certain ferocity. Devin does not do the same and it shows in his numbers.
Since the season has been such a disappointment it was only fair to start with the negatives. On the bright side, I’ve been impressed and encouraged by the play of our freshmen. It was far from a heralded class, but at least at the time it seemed to fill obvious needs. I watched as much film as I could on each of these guys before they stepped on campus and I was pleasantly surprised with all of them.
Rod Hall and TJ Sapp have both shared time starting in the backcourt alongside Young. Both have fared relatively well considering they’re true freshmen. And both have completely different skill sets. Rod Hall is a physical, lock down defender. His offensive game could use work, specifically his shot and ball handling. Right now he makes due by playing smart and not trying to do too much. At some point though, it would be nice to count on him to be able to beat his man off the dribble and finish at the rim as well as knock down open 3’s.
Sapp’s a scorer. He has the quickness and handle to get to the rim to go along with a good looking stroke from the outside. Once he adjusts more to the size and speed of the college game I’d expect more double digit outputs from him. I hope that he can become Stitt version 2.0.
In the frontcourt, both KJ McDaniels and Bernard Sullivan have shown flashes of just how talented they are. KJ had a very good week in Hawaii, leading the team in scoring against UTEP. He has tremendous athleticism to go along with a ridiculous wingspan. He is a bit a raw right now in his fundamentals and seems to be trying to find his role on the offensive end, but his upside is extremely high.
Sullivan is one of those typical lefties that always seem to be able to get their shot off in traffic. Now if he could just finish around the basket I’d be even higher on him. He’s a bit undersized at the 4, but he can get by because he has a good shot out to 15 feet and can beat his defenders off the bounce. I could see him playing some at the 3 in the future if we decide to go big.
At this point I think it’s time to readjust expectations. I think 6 ACC wins with overall improvement from the freshmen is a reasonable expectation. I’d like to see the young guys continue to get more playing time. If Jennings, Bobo, and Booker aren’t cutting it, let these guys get more run.
Don’t forget, we were down on this team last year heading into ACC play and they surprised us all. I don’t expect that to happen again, as this team is less talented and less experienced. But the fact that we play so many young guys, I believe it’s reasonable to expect improvement as the season rolls on.
I'm very disappointed in this team. I don't think any of us expected to play this bad so far, even though we all knew and admitted that we lost our best players. I think the simple fact is that while we are hitting the right guy in the right spots on offense, we are just not talented from a scoring perspective. Several of these guys are not ready to be playing in the ACC, and even some of the starters wouldn't get more than a few minutes on the better teams.
If we can't score outside, then we need post guys who aren't afraid to set a screen and do it right. The big guys have to help them create shots from whatever set we use. We heard that Devin told his coach that "good players don’t screen, that’s a job for guys that aren’t good players" one day at practice last month. I don't know what Brownell said to him after that, but I know what I would've done. I'd have sent his ass back to Union. Brad has probably vented his frustrations with Devin's attitude development, but I doubt we hear much on it unless it gets worse. He really doesn't have much choice but play him anyway. I see several noncoachable attitude problems on this team as a whole, and no passion from the experienced guys that aren't seniors.
The Guards themselves are getting it done on some dribble weave actions, they can get a few good runs at the paint on a handoff, but they walk right by the open midrange or pass it away too quickly to a man that is dumb enough to put the ball down in the paint -- you can insert any name here.
Aside from still needing a true shooter, I wish we had a face up 4. If we get those players for this system, the sky is the limit for them.
I think one of the most glaring problems we've had on offense is the transition. Last year I think we did pretty well here, but we haven't this season and we're having to execute the 1/2 court set with guys that are clueless. If we stepped up our defense in the passing lanes and figured out how to stop a dribble penetration (might take a Center with some balls first) we might force some long outlets and end up getting some easy baskets.
On D, I think we've been garbage on the perimeter too often. The freshmen are even better defenders than the older guys here, and they don't get their feet too close to the offensive player like a Narcisse or Tanner. Once you get too close, you're giving him an angle to hit and yourself a foot behind him no matter what.
Interior defense....what interior defense? We dont have one. They think that once somebody gets past the Guards that they don't have a chance. Book uses his hands and tries to fight instead of moving his damn feet, so he gets too many fouls. If youre going to foul inside, make it count please. Hammer the guy who drives from the key Booker, so next time he thinks twice about it. If you don't have the balls to do that, just stand still and get the Charge.
Right now, heres where I think we stand with personnel: AY is giving his best but has no help. He can't create his own shot, and presses, and now he's missing.
Tanner plays as hard as I wished the Bookers to play, but has 1/10th the talent of each.
Narcisse....is Narcisse, and wouldn't get garbage minutes at even a place like FSU or VT, much less Duke or UNC. McDaniels is better than he is right now.
MJ...PLEASE GET MAD AND PLAY MAD. I look at him and think -- Jamie Harper? Corey Lambert? Nobody has more untapped roundball potential that I can ever recall at Clemson. Guys like this, as many of you know, drive me batshit crazy. Can't make his mind up to be good, because too much shit is going on in his head.
Sapp will be good one day, and I'd play him all the time even if it meant losing. He's going to be another Stitt. He's quick and aggressive and needs to get moreso. Hall will be a good defensive player but I doubt I'd start him over Sapp.
Booker, like his brother, manages to piss me off in every game he plays. I've seen Devin make moves and play hard, but I don't believe he'll ever play to the level his body could. I'm almost done with him. His light better be on for FSU inside.
I had thought this team capable of 9-7, not happening. I think 6-10 might be optimistic, even though the ACC sucks compared to its former level. I just don't want the fans to stop showing up and send Brownell a message that we don't think basketball is important here.