Clemson Basketball Season Review

Picture Perfect Form

Clemson Tigers (16-15, 8-8 ACC, 0-1 ACCT)

Snapped a streak of 5 straight year of at least 20 Ws, which had been the longest in school history.

Kenpom Ranking: 75th; RPI: 146

ACC Finish: 7th; exactly where the ACC Media picked us.

The Clemson Tigers came into the 2011-2012 season with a number of questions marks, which we touched on in our 2010-2011 season review post as well as in our 2011-2012 season preview post. Replacing our two best players was never going to be easy. But trying to replace them with true freshmen was bound to make the task that much tougher.

In order to ease the pressure on the freshmen we needed Devin Booker and Milton Jennings to step up their games. Everyone knew what they were going to get with Tanner Smith and Andre Young, but the hope was that the highly regarded juniors would take a giant leap now that their roles were going to be expanded. This did not happen early in the season and the results showed. Clemson suffered embarrassing losses to Charleston, Coastal Carolina, and South Carolina. All were close games, all winnable at the end, but without a go-to scorer we struggled to close out ball games.

Clemson continued their lackluster results early in ACC play. They started 1-3 with a bad loss to a very young BC team. There wasn't much improvement during the next quarter of conference play, going 2-3 over their next 5 to move to 3-6 in the ACC. Then the Milton Jennings suspension happened. Guys started playing harder for each other, understanding their roles, and doing whatever it took to win ball games. Milton came back after a couple games and played his best basketball of the season. The Tigers went 5-2 in their last 7 to finish 8-8, which was good for 7th place in the conference. Unfortunately in the ACC tournament we drew a tough Virginia Tech team instead of a Wake Forest team that we would've blasted. The result was yet another close defeat.

Brad Brownell sat down for an in-depth State of the Program interview with www.tigerillustrated.com. There was a lot of good information to come out of this interview. I've posted the more interesting parts throughout this review. At the end of each segment I'll provide my perspective on Brownell's comments.

TI: When you look back at the season, what are you most proud of? And what still maybe gnaws at you?

BROWNELL: "I'm most proud of the way our guys battled. Except for the game against Virginia Tech that we lost at the end, I thought our guys had a good last month of the year and maybe even - I thought we were playing good basketball at the end. I thought our team improved. As a coach you like to see some change in your guys. You want to see guys getting better. And I think our team was drastically different at the end of the season versus at the beginning. We had more guys more comfortable and confident to make plays, to be aggressive offensively, more confident to finish games, take big shots, make big shots, make free throws, do the things you need to do that maybe we didn't do in games earlier in the season. There were times early in the season where you could tell our guys were a little nervous and apprehensive and a little unsure of themselves. I thought we kind of grew into that.

"And for our guys to be 3-6 in the ACC and battle out of it, to get all the way to 8-8 - I haven't studied Clemson history, but I do know enough that there probably aren't a whole lot of teams that have finished 8-8. There are some, certainly. And that's not a great record, but it's not easy. And for our guys to do that and finish the way we did was pretty good.

"We all hate the way it ended against Virginia Tech. That's probably the thing that really leaves a sour taste in my mouth. That second half, we didn't get things done. That bothers me, because I thought we did that through the last month of the season. We won most of those kind of games.

"I'm disappointed with the way we started. It took us too long to really get comfortable in our roles and get comfortable with maybe what we were doing and who was going to make and take big shots. I wish we could have had some of those games back early in the season, and I'm sure our players feel the same way."

Nothing jaw dropping here. We started the season poorly but did come on stronger at the end, just as I mentioned. It was disappointing to lose to Virginia Tech in the ACC Tournament, but not shocking. Virginia Tech was not a bad team. They have good talent. Their problem was that they didn't perform too well in close games, having suffered a number of close losses during ACC play.

This year was bound to be a transition year due to the loss of Stitt and Grant. Not only were these guys the main cogs offensively, they were also our best perimeter and interior defenders, respectively. As I've already stated, we needed role players to expand their roles and be prepared to shoulder more of the load. That, combined with another down year in the ACC, gave us hope that this team could push for contention in the top half of the conference. That did not happen quite the way we had hoped, especially early. Brownell sheds a light on the state of the roster.

TI: You took this job two years ago, and I'm sure you had your theories and notions of what it was going to be like. Are there some things that are different from what you envisioned?

BROWNELL: "The league and all that kind of stuff, recruiting - I knew the league was going to be difficult, and it's difficult. It's hard as heck to win on the road. It's just hard. Teams are good. Players are good. Confidence is higher when guys play at home. That's a real challenge. And the league itself is very good and getting better by the day. I think the coaches that have been hired are very, very good coaches. They're all guys who had track records of success at other places, as opposed to some guys who were maybe given some opportunities that maybe didn't have as much success early on. That's going to make it really hard.

"I'm frustrated a little because I know we've been hurt by the defections the first year, mid-year, and no recruiting class the second year basically with the one kid we were able to grab late and he left from being homesick. It's just left a big hole in our program that takes time to overcome. That's where the competitor in you is a little upset, a little angry, a little frustrated. Because you don't anticipate that when you take the job in April. I knew that wouldn't affect the first year's team, but I knew it was going to affect the next two and three years. The competitor in you, that gnaws at you. And there's really no way to overcome it. You're not going to recruit junior-college guys to come in and fill that hole, so you're always going to have a hole you've got to play through. That's one thing that's frustrated me a little more in the last year because it's become more prevalent this year throughout this season and it will be next season."

I think this paragraph is very important for the naysayers that want to know why we don't throw Brownell under the bus for not making a post season tournament for the first time in 5 years. The cupboard he was left with was far from full. He was handed a team with two very good senior leaders (Stitt and Grant), but the rest a collection of role players and underachievers. Adding to the problem was the fact that he had Hill and Johnson leave the team at the start of the season and his only recruit, Stanton, leave after the season. Not only did that mean he had a year where he was without a recruiting class, but the previous years recruiting class was cut in half. Therefore, he was essentially handed a team with 1/2 a years recruiting class over a 2 year span. Now he is going to be stuck working with 2 seniors, 5 sophomores, and 5 freshmen.

Enough about next year....for now. Lets take a look back at what we had this year and how these guys performed.

The Guards and Wings

Andre Young (116 Offensive Rating, 1st on the Team)

When Andre Young came to Clemson I was wondering how he was going to be able to make it in the ACC with his diminutive stature. 4 years later I'm left wishing he had another year of eligibility. The guy has a silky smooth jump shot. He is the only pure shooter Clemson has had since KC Rivers departed. Despite being 5'9, he does an admirable job of getting open for jumpers. Defenses know that his game is limited to perimeter shots because of his size, and yet he still find ways to get his shot off. His shooting percentage was down a little bit from last year, but that's what happens when you become the focal point of opposing defenses. He was forced to take tough shots when the offense stalled. You can't say enough about the effort that this guy gave every night. However, as important as he was to this team, he was a liability at times defensively. Yes, I realize he was selected to the ACC All-Defensive Team. But that is simply because of the number of steals he had. If the voters actually watched games, they would've seen that he had trouble jamming his defender and keeping him from getting to his spots. They'd also have noticed that shooters on the opposing teams had a field day shooting over top of Andre. He doesn't provide much of a distraction to shooters because he can't get his hand up to their face. That being said, his outside shooting, leadership, and heart will be missed next season.

Season GP MPG PPG FG% 3FG% FT% APG RPG BPG SPG
2011-12 31 34.5 13.3 41.6 34.7 82.8 3.1 2.7 0.0 1.7
2010-11 34 32.3 11.1 40.6 39.6 70.5 3.0 2.6 0.1 1.4
2009-10 32 26.3 9.2 40.1 37.5 80.0 2.4 2.2 0.0 1.7
2008-09 32 14.9 4.4 37.7 39.0 63.2 2.1 0.8 0.0 1.0

Career 129 27.0 9.5 40.4 37.5 77.0 2.7 2.1 0.0 1.4

Tanner Smith (110 Offensive Rating, 2nd on the Team)

The same positive attributes I stated about Andre can be applied to Tanner Smith as well. While not necessarily the most talented player, he is the jack of all trades. He is a good complimentary scorer, a very good passer, an excellent rebounder for his position, and a solid defender. However, he does turn the ball over too much. A lot of that is a result of him trying to do more than he is capable of doing. That's not necessarily his fault, as he was relied on to be Clemson's number 2 offensive option this year. On a team with more talent he'd be the perfect compliment. He's a great teammate and a guy that makes people around him better. He's not a guy that needs to the ball in his hands to impact the game. That makes him the perfect compliment on a talented team with other alternatives as scoring options.

Season GP MPG PPG FG% 3FG% FT% APG RPG BPG SPG
2011-12 31 32.6 11.2 45.7 35.1 72.1 4.1 5.1 0.2 1.7
2010-11 32 29.2 7.8 41.1 33.3 72.8 2.8 3.5 0.2 1.3
2009-10 32 24.9 8.7 40.1 27.5 74.0 2.2 4.2 0.4 1.2
2008-09 32 13.2 3.6 44.8 35.7 66.7 1.1 1.8 0.2 0.9

Career 127 24.9 7.8 42.8 32.6 72.5 2.5 3.6 0.3 1.3

Bryan Narcisse (98 Offensive Rating, 6th on the Team)

Bryan Narcisse is a player who gives his all every game, but is extremely limited in his skill set. He is a pretty good athlete (very good jumper, not great coordination), which allows him to be nuisance defensively. But offensively he doesn't have any firepower. He is not a good shooter, but unfortunately is a worse ball handler. Teams could completely ignore him on the offensive end and essentially guard 5 on 4. He received more minutes than I believe he should've. KJ McDaniels should receive the bulk of his minutes next year and the production at the SF spot should improve greatly.

KJ McDaniels (105 Offensive Rating, 3rd on the Team)

I've expressed my man crush for KJ McDaniels many times. I think he has star potential because with his athleticism he can get his shot off any time he wants. If he continues to work on his 3 point range and his ball handling, the sky is the limit for him. One of the many things that I really like about him is his ability to impact the game without needing the ball in hands. He is an excellent rebounder, especially on the offensive end. He scored a good amount of his points off of put backs, most of which were emphatic slams. He's also an excellent help-side defender. He protects the rim better than any of our current big men. Brownell believes he needs about 10lbs of weight and he'll be much better suited for the rigors of ACC play.

Rod Hall (93 Offensive Rating, 7th on the Team)

Hall, while not necessarily ready to play skill wise, received a good amount of playing time because he was physically ready. He has the body to be a lock down defender. Brownell likes his lead guards to be able to pressure their opponent and jam them as they come over halfcourt to disrupt the offensive rhythm. Hall was good at times, but his lack of lateral quickness showed against quicker guards. Improvement here is a must if he wants to keep seeing playing time going forward. Hall does not shoot the ball well and doesn't have good enough form for me to think he is going to show much improvement in this area. Therefore, becoming a Jontel Evans esque defender is his ticket to playing time.

Devin Coleman (85 Offensive Rating, 9th on the Team)

After a slow start to the season in which Coleman was the freshman seeing the least amount of playing time, Coleman came on very strong at the end and actually led Clemson in scoring in the season finale. Hopes are high for Coleman in the future because he has a knack for putting the ball in the basket. He needs to improve his long range shot in order to force defenders to play up on him, but if he can do that he may be poised to be Clemson's starting 2-guard next season.

TJ Sapp (83 Offensive Rating, 10th on the Team)

Put bluntly, Sapp had a rough freshmen season. In preseason practices he was touted by Brownell as the only freshmen that really "got it". But once the season started he lost his shot, was overwhelmed physically, and he lost confidence. I saw enough of Sapp to think that he has potential. He will need to put on some weight to put up the physical grind of playing in the ACC and regain his confidence in his jumpshot. Brownell thinks that Sapp probably has arguably the most realizable potential of this freshman group, if he gets his body to the right level, and if he works on getting more off the dribble like Stitt used to.

Big Men

Devin Booker (101 Offensive Rating, 4th on the Team)

Booker improved his skill set this year by adding more low post moves, which included both a right-handed and left-handed hook. The problem is that neither shot was very consistent and that he didn't have enough confidence to demand the ball. Often times he just goes through the motions without having his name called for long stretches. A more confident player would seal his defender and demand the ball from his teammates. If Clemson is going to be improve as a team next year they need Booker to take that next step. Defensively, I was impressed with his defensive rebounding effort. His defensive rebound % was the best on the team.

Season GP MPG PPG FG% 3FG% FT% APG RPG BPG SPG
2011-12 31 29.2 10.5 45.9 21.7 69.8 1.3 7.0 0.9 0.9
2010-11 34 24.3 8.1 44.7 33.3 73.4 0.7 5.5 0.4 0.6
2009-10 32 11.6 4.5 56.1 0.0 53.3 0.3 2.9 0.1 0.4

Career 97 21.7 7.7 47.2 28.9 67.8 0.8 5.1 0.5 0.6

Milton Jennings (90 Offensive Rating, 8th on the Team)

Jennings had a very rocky season. He was suspended once due to an on court spat with Brownell during the Diamond Head Classic and again later in the season for not fulfilling his duties in the classroom. Jennings raw numbers say that he improved this year, but the advanced stats actually show that his offensive rating took a 4 point dip from his sophomore year. At this point it's obvious that Jennings will not fulfill his recruiting hype. He has talent, but his lack of basketball instincts and his on-court mood swings keep him from completely harnessing that talent. Instincts aren't something you can teach yourself over the summer. I believe you either have it or you don't. Therefore, I think the most we can hope for is that he stops getting down on himself every time he turns the ball over or gets pulled out of the game, and applies a more positive attitude that helps limit some of the careless play that fans have grown accustom to with Jennings.

Season GP MPG PPG FG% 3FG% FT% APG RPG BPG SPG
2011-12 28 26.4 9.8 44.1 33.3 59.2 1.1 5.6 0.9 0.9
2010-11 34 20.1 8.3 41.0 29.3 77.2 0.6 5.2 0.4 0.6
2009-10 32 11.2 3.2 37.4 17.1 64.3 0.5 2.7 0.2 0.5

Career 94 18.9 7.0 41.6 27.8 67.9 0.7 4.4 0.5 0.6

Catalin Baciu (101 Offensive Rating, 5th on the Team)

Bobo, while still only playing a minor role, was surprisingly much improved this season. He was able to get good positioining for offensive rebounds and showed an ability to score with his back to the basket. The problem with Bobo is that his lack of lateral quickness is a huge liability defensively. Therefore, he could only be on the court in situations where the matchup was just right and he wasn't going to be drawn away from the basket. He will be replaced by two incoming freshmen.

Bernard Sullivan (71 Offensive Rating, 11th on the Team)

Sullivan was the highest rated freshmen in the 2011 class, but ultimately had the lowest offensive rating on the team, probably due to his struggles with asthma all year. Sullivan shows a knack for getting to the rim off the dribble using a variety spin moves. The problem is that he had a very difficult time finishing once he got there. He's a bit undersized at the PF position and will have to really work on his game to overcome his size disadvantage. It would behoove him to improve his mid-range game so that he can play more of a face-up 4. That would also open up the court and allow him more opportunities to drive. I also think he needs to develop his lower body strength. He was pushed underneath the rim on rebounding opportunities far too often. He needs to use his lower center of gravity as an advantage (like Draymond Green, for example) to optimize his positioning. He will be relied on as the first big man off the bench next year, so we'll really be watching to see how he progresses heading into next season.

Now that we've detailed what we had this year as far as talent goes, I thought it would be appropriate to details what we are missing. After watching this year's team and then watching the NCAA Tournament, you've probably noticed a couple of things that the teams that the Sweet 16 teams have in common that Clemson does not.

  1. A tough shot maker / go to scorer. Name a team that's still playing and I'll name a guy on that team that can score in tough situations. Clemson needs someone that can hit a big shot to silence the crowd when we're on the road and have 10,000 screaming fans working against us. We need someone that can take his man one-on-one and get a shot when the offense stalls and the shot clock is winding down. Each of the remaining teams have that guy. Clemson does not. Of course we've said for years now that what we need is a dead-eye shooter too.

  2. A dependable low-post scorer. Take Ohio State, Kansas or UNC for example. Those teams can dump the ball into the post and expect production from their big men. Their big guys aren't just out there for defense and rebounding, they are lethal scoring threats. Low-post scorers cause fits for defenses. If you don't send a double team then you are more than likely conceeding two points. If you do double team, you are leaving someone open and relying on them to miss an open shot. I know a big man that can really strain a defense are few and far between nowadays, but if you can recruit one or develop one it really opens up your offense.

How do we improve in these areas? Recruiting....and we just lost Rick Ray, our best recruiter. His replacement is key to our future.

TI: You took this job two years ago, and I'm sure you had your theories and notions of what it was going to be like. Are there some things that are different from what you envisioned?

BROWNELL: "The league and all that kind of stuff, recruiting - I knew the league was going to be difficult, and it's difficult. It's hard as heck to win on the road. It's just hard. Teams are good. Players are good. Confidence is higher when guys play at home. That's a real challenge. And the league itself is very good and getting better by the day. I think the coaches that have been hired are very, very good coaches. They're all guys who had track records of success at other places, as opposed to some guys who were maybe given some opportunities that maybe didn't have as much success early on. That's going to make it really hard.

"I'm frustrated a little because I know we've been hurt by the defections the first year, mid-year, and no recruiting class the second year basically with the one kid we were able to grab late and he left from being homesick. It's just left a big hole in our program that takes time to overcome. That's where the competitor in you is a little upset, a little angry, a little frustrated. Because you don't anticipate that when you take the job in April. I knew that wouldn't affect the first year's team, but I knew it was going to affect the next two and three years. The competitor in you, that gnaws at you. And there's really no way to overcome it. You're not going to recruit junior-college guys to come in and fill that hole, so you're always going to have a hole you've got to play through. That's one thing that's frustrated me a little more in the last year because it's become more prevalent this year throughout this season and it will be next season.

"But in terms of being here at Clemson and those expectations? It's been great. My family really likes it here. I've said that for two years. My girls are at an age - that move wasn't easy. I said I really wanted to be in a college-town environment where people support each other and people know each other and it's more than you just see each other in passing. You get to know people and build positive relationships with people on campus and in the community. The values you want to impart on your program are the same as what's going on in other programs on campus and in the athletic department. All that has been terrific. I'm actively involved in fundraising for the practice facility and have worked my tail off, to be honest with you. I've spent a lot of time on it and have made connections with people who don't have strong Clemson ties who have helped and are in the fight with us, who are battling to make this a reality and it's going to happen at some point. So it's very gratifying to be involved in those kinds of things and seeing things happen in your program. There's still no digging, but we're making progress. It's the future. It's still going to be two or three years before that's even a reality. But we're making progress in areas that fans don't really understand or know. That's part of long-term stability and success. And that part of it, I feel really good about.

"Those are things that, when you take the job, you hope it's that. You do your research as best you can to try to figure out and find out what a place is like. But you don't really know until you're there every day. That part has been very good. I've been very pleased with it. The longer I've been here, the more excited I've been. I've developed stronger relationships with people on campus, people in the community, people associated with Clemson, people associated with donors, finding people to get more excited about our program and what we're doing and built interest there to try to make some of these things happen that we really need if we're going to be successful moving forward. I don't care who they hired or if Oliver stayed, those things were going to have to happen or it wasn't going to be sustainable. Those things are going well. So I feel really good about that."

TI: Can you articulate your vision for recruiting over the long term?

BROWNELL: "As our program gets stronger, as our facilities get better, our success follows, you're going to have more kids that look at Clemson basketball differently. The staff has done a good job of continuing to move ahead and cultivate young recruits and get guys on campus that are younger. Because we've got to outwork people. That's the hard part is you've got to outwork them. It's not easy because everybody else is trying to do a good job now. And we don't have as big a pool, so we're going into other states and trying to grab around. But our guys are doing a good job of trying to get the younger guys and upgrade that way. I think the longer we're here, our recruiting will improve just because we'll get our claws into people. That's something that's obviously important, but it takes time.

"And the competitor in me doesn't like waiting, either. But I understand the process, and I think being here a little longer has made it resonate even more. There have been some instances where you've done a really good job in recruiting and it's gone against you a couple of times. It's not like you haven't done what you're supposed to do. You've done everything you really can. You've used all your evaluations, you've been everywhere you're supposed to be, made all your contacts. You've shown the love you need to show and outworked some people, but it hasn't always resulted in the player.

"And that's probably some of the challenges you were asking about earlier, challenges that people in basketball would tell you that's why this is a hard spot. We can overcome that, but it's going to have to take a full commitment from everybody. It's going to take a little time."

Recruiting is the life blood of a program in college basketball. Just look at the recruiting rankings, then take a peek at the AP top 25 and you'll see the correlation. Or just look at the Sweet 16 teams. Coaching is the ingredient that molds talented players into a cohesive group that pushes a team over the hump. But the foundation is recruiting. The fact that Brownell realizes that recruiting is important is nice to know. I understand that he doesn't have a lot of ties to the southeast, so he is going to have to build relationships that can help improve recruiting. That said, Clemson's recruiting classes (2011 and 2012) have been average to below average compared to fellow ACC teams (currently 9th even with a 5 man class). Are there good players in these classes? Absolutely. But there are also some question marks in there as well. Some of this is due to the transfer of 3 guys, as stated earlier, and the resulting need to reach for players in order to have enough bodies to compete. Although the next couple of classes should be smaller, we hope to see the incoming talent level continue to increase.

We all know that UNC and Duke will always pull in top talent. FSU does a very good job of bringing in talented guys that fit their system. But NC State is knocking it out of the park on the recruiting trail with Mark Gottfried at the helm. GT, VT, UVA, Maryland, and even Wake Forest have stepped up their game on the recruiting trail as well. The bottom line is that if we want to be a fixture in the top half of the conference we need to start luring more talent to Pickens County.

Incoming Recruits:

Adonis Filer G 6'2 185- Strong bodied, confident lead guard. Has a penchant for scoring and likes to attack the rim, often times able to absorb contact and finish through it. Does not have the best form on his jump shot, but he's streaky and can knock them down in volume when he gets hot. Filer's biggest adjustment to the college game is going to be his decision making. He's been relied on in HS to be a scorer, but Clemson will need him to run the office and get other guys involved. If he proves that he can be a facilitator as well as a scorer, he may be the starting PG next year.

Jordan Roper G 6'0 165 - Ultra-aggressive combo guard. Plays with confidence and knows how to put the ball in the basket. Seems like a 2-guard trapped in a PG's body (heard that before?). In an ideal situation a redshirt would benefit him greatly. He has some valuable tools, but he needs to gain weight, especially if he is going to play off the ball.

Jaron Blossomgame SF 6'6 200- The crown jewel of the class. Athletically gifted, and about as athletic as you're going to get in HS. In high school he gets the majority of his points be utilizing his athletic ability in the paint. He is very quick in his post moves, using drop steps and turn-arounds before defenders can blink. He's also a very quick leaper, which make him a very good offensive rebounder. He's played more inside than out in high school, but projects as a 3-man in college. He has the ability to knock down open 3's. If he continues to work on his ball handling and his driving ability he will be an absolute steal.

Josh Smith F 6'8 250- Thick, strong Power Forward. Shows good, strong hands in the limited film that is available. Also shows a variety of post moves. His back to the basket game is more developed than most high school big men, which is more common for players that aren't simply out-athleting their opponents. What holds him back in the recruiting rankings is that he plays below the rim. He needs to get into better shape, get a little more athletic, and he should be a solid big man in the future.

Larry Nnoko F/C - 6'11 240 pounds. Very long and athletic big man. Moved to the US from Cameroon. As is usually the case for big men coming from Africa, they move very well vertically and laterally due to the fact that they grow up playing soccer. He comes from a very good HS program in Florida, Montverde Academy. He's still learning the game and is very raw offensively. He's a much more athletic version of Bobo his freshmen year. He must be able to rebound and guard the rim for us next year, if nothing else. Anything he can give us offensively is an added bonus. Could be a tremendous player in the future with his size, length, and athleticism if he can just develop some low post moves.

Did we fill our needs? Numbers wise, yes. We brought in 2 big bodies to back up Booker, Jennings, and Sullivan. We also needed numbers in the backcourt, as right now it's Hall, Sapp, and Coleman. I still think we may be missing a true PG. Hopefully Adonis or Jordan can develop into that role and push Hall for playing time. Blossomgame has the potential to be a go-to scorer, but don't expect it to happen his freshmen year. Same for low-post scoring big men. Smith and Nnoko have potential, but neither guy is ready to contribute offensively from day 1. I think this is a good class, but not one that will blow you away when watching them in year 1. Filer and Blossomgame should see the most minutes as they are the most developed both physically and offensively at this point. The other 3 guys are projects that need time to develop either physically or fundamentally.

F1NS:

The way the season ended was—at least for me—hard to swallow. After such an atrocious start to the season in November and December and such a slow start in ACC play, I was starting to feel really good about this team late in the year. After winning 5 of our last 7 games and notching big wins over Virginia, NC State, and Virginia Tech, I was getting excited about this team’s potential. I knew we would face a tall order against Duke in the ACC tournament, but I would have loved to have seen this team get the chance to play them again. I wasn’t ready for this Tigers club to lose to Virginia Tech (especially not after we had beat them a week earlier despite not making a single 3-point shot). I wasn’t ready for the season to end the way it did. Any time a season ends with a loss, it is hard to take, but in years past, at least when it was over, we knew it was over. This year, though, was different. When the buzzer sounded on the Virginia Tech game, uncertainty over whether the season was over or not crept in.

For a good while now, Clemson’s season has always ended with a loss in a postseason tournament, either in the NCAAs or in the NIT. Losses in these tournaments are tough, but at least with these losses there is some finality to the way the season ended. When you lose in a single-elimination postseason tournament, you’re done and you know you’re done. But this season’s ending wasn’t like that. When we lost to Virginia Tech in Atlanta back on March 8th, I probably should have realized that that was it—that the long journey for these four seniors was finally over. But I didn’t—I guess I was still in denial about not getting an NIT bid, and I also was holding out hope that we would accept a CIT or CBI bid if we got one. I guess I was in denial because I loved watching this group of seniors play, and I wasn’t ready to for their seasons to be over yet; I wanted to see them suite up at least one more time. I didn’t know it at the time, but that loss in Atlanta was the end of the road for this group of seniors. I guess I should have known, though—I think Tanner did—the way he drooped his head after the final buzzer sounded seemed to show that he knew that his career in a Tiger uniform was over. I would have loved to see Tanner, Andre, Bobo, and Bryan suit up one last time, but I like the way Brad handled the CBI bid. He let his seniors decide if they wanted to accept the bid or not. They said no, and that was that. The season ended. Tanner and Andre played great throughout the season. The two played lockdown D all year, and finished tied for 2nd in the ACC with 1.7 steals per game. Andre was obviously hurt by his small stature on both offense and defense, and he didn’t shoot quite as well from outside as I would have liked (his 34.7% from beyond the arc was actually his lowest average in his four years here) , but all in all he had are a really productive senior year. Tanner turned it over way too much at the beginning of the year, but he cut down on that as the season progressed. He always played harder than everyone else on the court, and at the very end of his career, his overall play was starting to match his hustle. He turned in one of the best all-around games of his career in his final game—12 points, 6 assists, 6 rebounds, no turnovers. A great stat line considering that Tanner’s overall athletic ability should have prevented him from ever approaching such numbers. Bobo also developed as the year progressed. After watching him struggle (mightily) in his first three years here, I didn’t expect anything at all out of him this season, but he become a key contributor in the post for this team, and by the time March rolled around, I was actually more impressed with Bobo’s post moves than I was with Devin Booker’s. Bryan was fun to watch on defense, but his offensive production was very frustrating (averaged 2.6 ppg), especially down the stretch. He wasn’t much of a scoring threat early in the season either, but at least then he would put up the occasional 7 or 8 point night. In the last ten games of the season, he scored a grand total of 13 points, and actually failed to score in four consecutive games. This inability to score is really gonna hurt us a lot next year. For the second year in a row, we lose our top two scorers (Jerai and Stitt last year, Andre and Tanner this year). None of this year’s freshmen showed a consistent ability to shoot the ball. I can see TJ and Devin Coleman eventually developing somewhat decent shots, but their shooting ability won’t come close to what we saw out of Andre these last four seasons. And don’t expect many converted jump shots from KJ and Rod Hall in the coming years—the two simply can’t shoot the basketball. I wouldn’t expect much shooting out of Sullivan either, as he seems to be more of a slasher than a jump shooter at this point. And as for next year’s freshmen, Brownell himself has said that none of them are excellent shooters. As of right now, it looks like Milton Jennings might be our best option as far as jump shooting goes next year. That sounds pretty bad, and it probably is, although Milton showed a better jump shot this year, and if he can keep his head on straight (I know, I know, a huge if), he has the potential to become a pretty decent shooter next year. We’re obviously going to need it, seeing as next year’s team will be lacking any great outside threats and will consist of five freshmen, five sophomores, and just two upperclassmen in Devin Booker and Milton Jennings. A lot of people were very frustrated with the way this season began, with all the bad losses and everything. After seeing this program make it to four straight NCAA tournaments, it was tough to see this team take such a dive. And the sad thing is we might see the same scenario we saw this year play out again next year: a young group of guys that struggles to come together early before playing some pretty good basketball in February and early March, only to have their season end in a tough way because they simply aren’t talented enough. I guess the grim outlook of the upcoming season made the end of this one even harder to take. Losing Jerai and Stitt after last season was tough, but I knew we had some key pieces coming back in Andre and Tanner. But with the end of this season, a whole new era in Clemson basketball begins. With Milton and Devin the only Oliver Purnell holdovers still on the team, next year’s team will be Brad Brownell’s. It will be a very young team, and I’m not holding great expectations about next year’s club. I think Brownell is a really good coach, but winning a lot of games is a hard thing to do when you have just two (underachieving) upperclassmen. I’d like to take the time here to thank Tanner, Andre, Bobo, and Bryan one last time for all the effort they gave in their four years here. This group of four guys is one of my favorite classes of ballers that have ever come through Clemson. Good luck to them.

FIGUREFOUR:

My prediction of 7-8 ACC wins was spot on however 18-20 overall wins was not attained. Clemson had a reasonable chance of getting to the 18 win plateau before losing the season finale at Florida State then dropping the ACC Tourney first round game to Virginia Tech. Clemson was particularly hampered by a terrible month of December that saw our Tigers drop games to Coastal, C of C, South Carolina, Arizona, Hawaii, and UTEP. Had Clemson won a couple of those winnable games, we may be looking at this season in a slightly different manner and would have made a better case for a spot in postseason play.

Clearly the Tigers disappointed early but did show progress as the season deepened. It was little surprise that the experienced hands led the team in ’11-’12. Booker, Young, Smith, and Jennings dominated the PT and, accordingly, sat atop the stat sheet. We did see the emergence of K.J. McDaniels as a great athlete who will be one to watch for this program moving forward. McDaniels is a player who showed his skills above the rim and will be a force if he can evolve into a consistent jump shooter to establish himself as a guy who spells trouble for opponents as both an outstanding athlete and precise perimeter shooter.All in all, I had to shake my head at this team’s December performance and was shocked by the extremely slow start for this squad. I was impressed with improvement over the course of ACC play though we did drop a couple close games that, depending on your viewpoint, could have been salvaged. Overall I won’t get down on Brownell for missing the postseason but am interested in the talent he brings in and how they develop. Clemson is a more disciplined team now than several years ago but disciplined talent in the end wins games. The critical evaluation season, in my opinion, will be the ’13-’14 season when BB is established and has his defined playing style and recruited players running the show with some experience.

Doc:

Since everything has been said above that covers what I wanted to say, I decided that we should go back and look at our preseason projections.

One of our big questions this year was on MJ and Booker. We knew that the team would only go so far as they pushed it, and they didn't do a good job. Certainly over the year they improved, however.

We heard in the offseason that MJ and Booker spent most of the offseason working on their outside shots, and it showed this year when neither could get inside and score. Booker should truly be averaging another 5ppg with his ability to be physical. Some of the lazyness we saw in November/December went away and he started giving more effort. That is what I want to see next year. I don't know what you would ever want Book to work on the 3 point shot when he's rarely going to be a guy whos in the game when you go 4-out 1-in.

Jennings needed to work on his ability to take contact and not play like a sissy inside, and still does. I've never seen a more mental-case as a basketball player.

Two other questions were on the freshmen and whether our defense could repeat its performance from last year. Our 25th-ranked PPG allowed shows me we did well enough at the latter, with only a few bad games standing out where we completely wet the bed. I thought KJ and Sapp showed great potential and I would've liked Sullivan to have come on much more than he did. I think this class is going to work out in the long run, but I don't know if we'll be at the talent level to get to the Top 3 spots in the ACC. We'll need to be really stingy on defense.

In the preseason I projected 20-22Ws, and 9-7 in ACC play + NCAA berth. FF picked us to win 7-8 in ACC play and gggmen08 picked us to win 9 in ACC play. After the way it started I was shocked we finished at 8-8, but if we had just won the winnable games early on, we would've made the NIT at the least. We started out terrible in both years under BB. Brownell even got beat by Darrin Horn. That shit better get fixed against Frank Martin.

In our preseason poll most of you (54%) projected 18-20Ws, 6-8th in ACC play and an NIT berth, so the real determination here is whether you think harsh criticism is deserved when we knew they would suck in some games.

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