Clemson Basketball Season Preview

Jeremy Brevard-US PRESSWIRE

Brad Brownell is facing a unique situation in his third year at the helm of the Clemson basketball program. Most third-year coaches’ initial batch of recruits have by this time reached their third year as well, and gained valuable experience and maturity along the way. But this third-year coach has quite the opposite situation: not a single junior on the roster.

Ed. Note - this is a team written post.
Last season’s review can be found here.

The transition from Oliver Purnell to Brad Brownell was anything but smooth; Brownell brought only one recruit (Cory Stanton) with him to Clemson in his first year, and that player—along with two others on the roster (Donte Hill and Noel Johnson)—transferred out of the program soon thereafter. The combination of a small initial recruiting class and a subsequent slew of transfers results in a very young Tiger team again this year. With just two upperclassmen on the roster, the Tigers are one of the youngest teams in the country.

Oh, and did I mention that those two upperclassmen are named Devin Booker and Milton Jennings? That’s right, the only upperclassmen on this year’s roster—the leaders of the team—are Devin Booker and Milton Jennings. Booker was suspended for the exhibition game against Landers for a violation of team rules. His personality, as characterized by Brownell, is very quiet and subdued. Jennings on the other hand wears his emotions on his sleeve, and as a result was suspended last year for getting into it with Brownell during the holiday tournament after he was taken out for his poor performance. Not exactly the ideal leaders you want for a team that has 11 freshmen and sophomores.

Expectations certainly aren’t very high for this team (the Tigers were picked 8th in the preseason ACC media poll), and we have to replace three starters from a year ago in Bryan Narcisse, Andre Young, and Tanner Smith, but we do bring in six new guys, including five freshmen and a sophomore transfer from BYU, DeMarcus Harrison. If you’re not familiar with Harrison’s story, then check out this article.

In addition to Booker and Jennings, the Tigers also return K.J. McDaniels, TJ Sapp, Rod Hall, and Bernard Sullivan. Unfortunately, this year’s probable starting SG, Devin Coleman, is likely out for the year after tearing his achilles tendon in July. The loss of Coleman certainly created a void at guard, but this void was patched up when Harrison was granted an NCAA waiver to play this season. Brownell also brought in 5 freshmen: PGs Adonis Filer and Jordan Roper, versatile wing Jaron Blossomgame, and PF Josh Smith and C Landry Nnoko. But before we get into the new guys, let’s first take a look at the veterans.

Jennings and Booker, who will start in the paint for the Tigers, have been the targets of a lot of criticism from Tiger fans the last three years. Much of it was well deserved, but now they have a final shot at redeeming themselves. For both of them, the problem is more often than not more mental than physical, Booker is strong-bodied with very good athleticism, but does not bring top-level intensity every time he is out on the court. Jennings has a more skilled offensive game than Booker, but tends to let the ebbs and flows of his emotions affect his play. We also have significant concerns about Jennings physicality, as he can be manhandled at times by tough PFs.

The mental fortitude of Booker and Jennings is a big key for this team’s success. Both have the ability to be successful, but without the right mental approach, their talent goes to waste. If Booker and Jennings can both overcome their own personal mental hurdles, the two could be real cogs for this team. Throw in an improved K.J. McDaniels, who we are extremely high on, and this group has the potential to be an above average front court. But again, that’s a big if.

Out of the three starting positions that have to be taken over by new faces, the small forward slot should be the one with the smoothest transition, as K.J. McDaniels takes over for Bryan Narcisse. Here at STS, we advocated for McDaniels to have an expanded role last year, as his talent and production trumped that of Narcisse. Last year’s version of McDaniels could certainly be described as raw. A majority of his points came from his tenacity on the offensive glass, which we love. But if his outside shot is improved over last year, he’ll be a tough guy to handle for anyone in the conference. Word is that KJ worked hard on his shot over the summer, getting up 1000 shots a week. There were no obvious flaws in his mechanics, aside from the fact that he has a slow release. I’d expect him to have a more polished offensive game this year. One other thing to note is the strength gains that this guy has made in offseason. He’s packed on 15 to 20 pounds of muscle, which will make him even harder to keep off the offensive glass.

Landry Nnoko, who is listed at just under 7 feet tall, will be backing up Booker at the center position. Nnoko played soccer for much of his life (which makes sense since he’s from Cameroon), and has actually only been playing basketball for three years. He doesn’t have much experience, obviously, but he runs the floor well, and his height will be an obvious advantage inside. Converted soccer players tend to do a very good job with their footwork, which is the primary building block for a big man. I don’t really expect him to contribute much immediately offensively, especially considering his limited playing experience, but after seeing what Coach Winiecki did with Bobo in just two years, I have to say I’m very excited about Nnoko’s potential.

Bernard Sullivan and Josh Smith will back up Jennings. Sullivan started to come on strong towards the end of last season, as his asthma problems seemed to finally be behind him. He didn’t play much last season, averaging just 7.5 mpg, the lowest among the team (not counting Carson Fields). He’s going to be counted on for a greatly expanded work-load this year since he’s the only big man reserve we have with any experience. In an ideal world, Josh Smith or Nnoko would be able to redshirt this year. I’d go with Smith because needs to reshape his body (although he does have a more advanced offensive game than Nnoko). He may avoid a redshirt, however, simply due to our lack of frontcourt bodies. Don’t expect to see him getting too much playing time though, as we already have enough undersized big men (Booker, Milton, and Sullivan). Therefore, I’d expect the staff to use Nnoko more than Smith because his length is a bigger asset defensively.

Jaron Blossomgame is the crown jewel from Brownell’s 2012 recruiting class. However, he is still trying to recover from a broken leg that he suffered in an April workout. The timetable for Blossomgame’s return is uncertain, but Brownell is hoping that he can be up to full speed in a few weeks.If he gets back to 100%, you are looking at a guy that will push for immediate playing time.He’s too talented to keep on the bench, but his injury has pushed him into the redshirt arena.He’s capable of scoring from both inside and outside. Defensively, he can possibly guard 3 positions (SG, SF, PF) because of his length and athletic ability. He could push either Harrison at SG or McDaniels at SF for playing time when healthy.

Look for Rod Hall to get the nod at PG in the opener, but don’t be surprised if Adonis Filer is able to overtake Hall once he grasps Brownell’s scheme. Hall and Filer are both well put together young guys, but defensively Filer’s length is a big advantage for jamming PGs as they come across half court, which Brownell loves to do. Offensively, Hall is extremely limited and Filer is already the bigger threat with the ball in his hands. Jordan Roper will also be in the mix. He needs to add weight, but his outside shot might be best on the team. He played off the ball more in high school, so he really needs to learn how to run an offense to get time at PG.

Brownell on Filer:

"He’s a guy who can defend a couple of different positions because he’s 6-2 ½ or 6-3, and has a strong college-ready body. He’s got pretty good speed and is fearless driving the ball to the basket, taking it into the paint and drawing contact. He’ll bring an aggressive, competitive nature that I think our team will need, especially as young as we’re going to be for the next couple of years."

DeMarcus Harrison and TJ Sapp will compete for time at shooting guard. Sapp gained twenty pounds in the offseason and is working on becoming a more physical player, but he will be in a real fight for playing time with Harrison. Sapp did have the better 3-point shot last year (31.6% compared to 26.5% for Harrison), but many believe that Harrison is the better overall athlete.Harrison has good mechanics on his shot and with increased play time that number should improved significantly.

F1NS Outlook and Prediction

It will be a very tall task if the team’s goal is to make the NCAA tournament in March. The Tigers will most likely be improved at the 3 position, but Booker and Jennings remain Booker and Jennings, and there is a significant drop at both guard slots: the Tigers don’t have anyone to replace Andre Young’s outside shot threat, and this team loses its only real leader in Tanner Smith.

I don’t see an easy fix to either of these problems. Unless one of the new guys comes in shooting lights out, we will probably struggle all year at stretching defenses with quality perimeter shooting. Outside shooting isn’t our biggest problem though. The lack of any real senior leadership is the biggest problem that this team faces. I think the attitude of Jennings and Booker will be the key to the season. If they can somehow finally turn it around, this team could overcome its deficiencies in the backcourt and have a realistic shot at an NCAA tournament berth. If not, get ready for a long year. This team will go as far as Milton and Devin take it. How far that is remains to be seen

ggggmen08 Outlook and Prediction

I know a lot of people are down on the basketball team right now because they missed the tournament last year for the first time in 5 years. And while I don’t expect the team to make the tournament this year either, I find a lot to be excited about. Losing Young and Smith is a lot for this team to overcome. But Brownell has brought in some talent the past 2 years and this team is more athletic than they’ve been in awhile. I’m excited about the future because we’ll get to see it first-hand this year with 11 freshmen and sophomores contributing.

Everyone wants to talk about Booker and Jennings needing to turn the corner this year in order for this team to take the next step. If you are hoping for that to happen I think you’ll be disappointed. Booker and Jennings are what they are at this point. I think Brownell has succumbed to that fact and I think the fans should too. I’m not saying we should accept poor effort from those two, but expecting them to go out and give Clemson a consistent double-double isn’t realistic either. I expect them to average 12-13 ppg with 6-7 rpg. What we should also expect from them is consistency in that range. We can’t have games where neither one of them show up. This team isn’t deep enough yet to account for their absences.

This team now has 6 top 150 recruits coming out of high school: Jennings, Booker, Sullivan, Harrison, Blossomgame, Filer. The talent isn’t necessarily where it needs to be, but it is improving. I think Filer has a very good shot at taking the starting PG spot at some point this season. Harrison, Blossomgame, and K.J. McDaniels are all extremely long and athletic with very high ceilings. That’s as talented a group as Clemson has had at the 2/3 in a long time (and that’s not even counting Coleman who is out for the year). I know it goes against Brownell’s defensive-minded style, but I think this team would be better served to get out and run. They are athletic, but not necessarily the most skilled offensive team in the halfcourt. But in fast paced game, a lineup of Filer, Harrison, McDaniels, Jennings, and Booker could keep up with a majority of the teams on our schedule.

Now that I’ve pumped a little sunshine, I’m going to be realistic. The ACC has moved to an 18 game schedule this year. There is a presumed top tier of NC State, Duke, UNC, Miami, and FSU. Clemson plays 8 games against that top tier. There is a presumed bottom tier of Virginia Tech, Wake Forest, and Boston College. Clemson plays 5 games against that bottom tier. Everyone else falls in the middle in my opinion (and the media’s opinion). With that background information in hand, I think this team finishes 7-11 in the ACC. Clemson had better beat the team in Columbia this year, as I believe we are a more talented bunch and have choked away the game to them the past few years.

The biggest weakness with this year’s team is at the most important position, point guard.If Filer can grow up fast and take over the starting spot, this team may be able to overachieve.I’m targeting 2013-2014 as the season where Clemson gets back to the big dance, after the freshmen and sophomores have had a year to grow up.But I’m excited to see the young guys develop this year because I believe there is young talent on this roster.

2012-13 ACC Preseason Poll (first-place votes in parenthesis)
1. N.C. State Wolfpack (26) - 601
2. Duke Blue Devils (21) - 589
3. North Carolina Tar Heels - 520
4. Florida St. Seminoles (6) - 484
5. Miami Hurricanes - 436
6. Maryland Terrapins - 341
7. Virginia Cavaliers - 287
8. Clemson Tigers - 277
9. Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets - 189
10. Virginia Tech Hokies - 169
11. Wake Forest Demon Deacons - 151
12. Boston College Eagles – 90

1st ever preseason coaches’s poll (first-place votes)
1. N.C. State Wolfpack (8) 139
2. Duke Blue Devils (3) 130
3. North Carolina Tar Heels (1) 124
4. Miami Hurricanes 104
5. Florida St. Seminoles 103
6. Maryland Terrapins 78
7. Virginia Cavaliers 68
8. Clemson Tigers 61
9. Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets 40
T10. Virginia Tech Hokies 32
T10. Wake Forest Demon Deacons 32
12. Boston College Eagles 25

No.

Name

Position

Height

Weight

Year

Hometown

24

Milton Jennings

F

6’ 9’’

225

SR

Summerville, SC

31

Devin Booker

F-C

6’ 8’’

250

SR

Whitmire, SC

32

K.J. McDaniels

F

6’ 6’’

195

SO

Birmingham, AL

22

Bernard Sullivan

F

6’ 7’’

230

SO

Gastonia, NC

12

Rod Hall

G

6’ 1’’

210

SO

Augusta, GA

1

T.J. Sapp

G

6’ 2’’

195

SO

Fort Lauderdale, FL

15

Devin Coleman

G

6’ 2’’

200

SO

Philadelphia, PA

21

DeMarcus Harrison

G

6’ 4’’

195

SO

Greenwood, SC

2

Carson Fields

G

6’ 4’’

200

SO

Pewee Valley, KY

35

Landry Nnoko

C

6’ 10’’

240

FR

Yaounde, Cameroon

5

Jaron Blossomgame

F

6’ 7’’

190

FR

Alpharetta, GA

33

Josh Smith

F

6’ 8’’

255

FR

Charlotte, NC

20

Jordan Roper

G

5’ 11’’

155

FR

Columbia, SC

3

Adonis Filer

G

6’ 2’’

185

FR

Chicago, IL

DrB:

Well, I want this team to be better recordwise than they were last season, but I don't think that is a fair expectation yet. Realistically though, if Brownell manages to lose to SC yet again, he should feel some heat. A loss there would be unacceptable. Other than that, I think we should give one more year to get us into the NCAA Tournament. As much as I like Brownell as a coach, he has to get results. I can see every week that we are being well-coached, which is what I generally ask out of all Clemson teams. My impression is that we're going to lose plenty of close games where you can say we fought hard.

This team has a lot of holes, as the others have detailed above. We don't really have a solidified PG. We have one big lazy kid in the middle, who has somehow become lazier than even his brother was. The other one plays like a sissy. I feel like the latter two will not improve this year. Will they have good games? Yes. Will they have games where you want to choke the life out of them? Also yes.

The Point is going to be a stickler. If Filer has a great year, the possibility is there for a NIT bid and run. He could really be another Stitt if he shows what was in his HS film. He hustles on D, which is a good starting point for Brownell to work with as well.

I feel like we really needed Blassomgame to be healthy this year, his loss is killer. We could've used him as a tenacious defender and rebounder inside. His shot might be lacking but I'll take the hustle instead of Devin's lazy ass. I'm not sure KJ can be a good starter, or that Roper can contribute this year. What this team needs is a Stitt or Grant to put the team on his back and win. We don't have that scorer and as usual we don't have a damn shooter.

I think this team improves considerably next season with MJ and Booker gone and another year of experience for this cluster of young guys, but I don't have high aspirations for this season.

We would also like to invite others to help STS with basketball coverage. We seem to be lacking an X's and O's component here, as well as occasional help with recaps/previews for games. If you would like to contribute, contact gggmen.

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