Clemson Basketball Season Review

Streeter Lecka

Clemson Tigers (13-18, 5-13 ACC, 0-1 ACCT)

Lost 7 straight and 10 of 11 overall to close out the season. Back-to-back seasons without a postseason berth. Offensive Efficiency Rating: 98.9 (230th nationally) Defensive Efficiency Rating: 96.7 (90th nationally)

Kenpom Ranking: 114

RPI: 175

ACC Finish: 11th

We had this year pegged as a rebuilding year from the time the 2011-2012 season ended. We'd like to get to the point where we reload and don't rebuild, but we're not anywhere close to that point right now. It was obvious that there was a lack of talent on the roster and no veteran leadership to help guide 11 freshman and sophomores along. Our issues were compounded when Devin Coleman tore his achilles tendon in the offseason and Jaron Blossomgame wasn't able to fully recover from his broken leg. Coleman was likely going to be our starting 2-guard and Blossomgame was our most heralded freshman recruit. The thought was this team would start slow but gradually gain confidence and show improvement throughout the season like Brownell's teams from his 1st two seasons. The best case scenario I could see was 9-9 in the conference, but I figured we'd need a few breaks to get there. Needless to say, that didn't happen.

Clemson had up and down results in the out of conference slate. They led Gonzaga at the half in Old Spice Classic before faltering late, losing by 8. They rebounded nicely with wins over Marist and UTEP to close out the tournament. Next came a disappointing loss at home to a mediocre Purdue team in the ACC/B1G Challenge. That was followed by a nice road victory over hated rival South Carolina and another hard fought loss to a top 25 Arizona, a game in which Clemson led by 6 midway through the 2nd half. After the hard fought losses to a couple of very good teams it seemed the team was on the brink of breaking through, they just needed to learn how to close out game. That was until they lost for a 2nd consecutive season to Coastal Carolina, this one a 23 point blowout on the road. That loss snapped us back to reality quickly.

In ACC play, Clemson was able to notch 4 victories in their first 8 games, including a home victory over a tough UVA team. That start, however, was followed by the uncontrollable downward spiral of 10 losses in their final 11 games. Clemson ended ACC play with a 5-13 record and an 11th place finish. Of those 13 losses, 3 were extremely gut-wrenching defeats. Clemson held late leads against NC State, FSU, and Miami before losing at the buzzer in each game. Each game consisted of missed foul shots and back breaking 3-pointers to finish off Clemson.

As inexperienced as Clemson was this year, an 11th place finish and a 5-13 conference record isn't acceptable. Simply finding a way to finish out games could've netted us 3 or 4 extra victories this year. But there's no use playing the coulda, woulda, shoulda game. Fans are upset and lacking interest in the program, and they have valid reason to be upset. Although this was a rebuilding year, it's never acceptable to lose 10 out of 11. That being said, I've thought from the time that Brownell was hired that he should be given 4 years to put his stamp on this program. You have to give him time to bring in his recruits, develop those guys, and implement his system. He also needs time to change the culture of a losing program. Clemson has only made the NCAA tournament 9 times in the past 33 years. Brownell has made the NCAAT 1 time in 3 years. I'm not saying the Brownell is our savior and that he is going to take us to the upper echelon of college basketball next season, but shouldn't a program that has historically been one of the worst in the ACC show a little more patience. Oliver Purnell's ACC record in his first 3 seasons was 3-13, 5-11, and 7-9. But because of the Clemson administration's patience he was able to pull Clemson out of a downward spiral that was started by Larry Shyatt. Season 4 for is critical for Browenll to show improvement. It's important to see that this team is on the uptick.

Coach Brownell needs to be able to identify his team's faults and fix them in the next 7 months. Judging by his Q&A with TI, I believe he is keenly aware of the faults of this team.

On the topic of the 1983 N.C. State team, do you think the lack of the intangible strengths shown by that team hurt your team down the stretch and made this season worse than it should have been?

BROWNELL: "Definitely. I think losing close games became a problem with this team. Certainly there were guys that didn't have good feelings about making plays or us making plays at the end of games to win, whether it was getting stops or scores.....Certainly there became doubt on our team. I can tell you that in huddles, I could look into their eyes and I didn't see strength and confidence. I tried a million things to get them to believe and figure this one out, that this was going to be the game that we were going to change it and make the play we needed to make.

We said it a throughout the season, but it was obvious that this team had the deer-in-the-headlights look coming down the stretch in close games. Good PG play and veteran leadership can help a young team overcome this issue, but Clemson didn't have either of those things this year. The PG position was a weakness throughout the year, as Rod Hall struggled to create offensively and Adonis Filer's decision making was questionable. I can't say it enough how important it is to have good PG play. It's like playing with a coach on the floor, and that type of player inspires confidence in his teammates and cures the deer-in-the-headlights problem. It's important for a team to get to a point where players can play without looking over to the coaches during the game for guidance. A quality PG that can get the team into the offense, control the tempo, and make the right decisions is needed for that to happen.

Have you been able to recruit the type of player you envisioned recruiting when you first took the job?

BROWNELL: "No. And we probably haven't done as good a job of that as I would like, in all honesty. We need to be more skilled. We need to maybe give up some athleticism for skill. And that's challenging, because we've got to find more skilled guys. Because we have to be able to shoot the ball better. We need to do that better. And I think we've tried to do that.

"Certainly we think Patrick Rooks can shoot the ball. Austin Ajukwa, I don't know if he's a great shooter but I think for a kid of his size he has more skill and he can pass and dribble a little bit better than some guys maybe that we've started with in certain areas.

It's clear that Clemson lacked skilled players this past year. Their 29.8% shooting from 3-point range was last in ACC play, as was their 40% shooting from the floor. It's tough to win games if you can't put the ball in the basket. Although we struggled to score, we certainly could've helped ourselves out in other areas. There are plenty of teams that don't shoot the ball well from deep that are still able to win basketball games because they are tough, physical basketball teams that beat you up inside. Clemson needs to get tougher, and it starts with their ability to rebound the ball, both offensively and defensively. In tempo free stats, Clemson was 167th and 176th, respectively, in those areas. That's middle of the pack, but not good enough to overcome their shooting ineptness.

We also need to play better team defense and limit easy baskets. We were a very good shot blocking team, ranking 21st nationally in block percentage. But I heard Brownell state that this team only took 5 charges all year. That's one charge every 6 games. That's insane. He said that it wasn't in Booker's makeup to take a charge, that is worse. Tanner Smith took at least twice as many on his own in 2011-2012. There are two ways to protect the basket and we completely neglected one of those areas. Charges can actually be more beneficial than blocks because it guarantees you possession of the ball and gets the opposition into foul trouble. The fact that we only took 5 charges all year tells me that this team wasn't committed to doing whatever it takes to win ball games. Don't you think Duke takes fake charges and gets the call their way on anything borderline? Don't you see their star players doing it too? We're not nearly talented enough to get away with neglecting the little things.

I believe there is reason to think this team can get better next year. But Brownell will have to get these guys playing hard for each other and doing all the little things needed to win because the talent still isn't here. Why else should we expect improvement? Experience. Experience matters. Look across the landscape of college basketball and the NCAA Tournament and by and large the successful teams are playing upperclassmen. It's always possible for a team like Kentucky to sign five 5* players and compete right away. But that's the exception, not the rule. Clemson has 7 freshmen and sophomores returning that earned valuable experience this past year. They have 2 other guys coming off redshirts that were able to study Brownell's system for an extra year.

With that being said, I'm not expecting a drastic turnaround. The roster still has too much dead weight and can't match the talent of most other teams in the conference. But we can't keep waiting for Brownell to get it. It's time for him to prove that we are heading in the right direction.

Rod Hall – Failed to show significant improvement in his offensive game. 5.7 ppg and 3.5 assists/game isn’t going to get it done from a starting PG getting 30 minutes/game. Defenses don’t respect his shot and are able to play off him in help position. By all accounts he’s a good teammate and works hard in practice. But he’s limited in his skill set. He could be a solid backup going forward because of his experience and his above average defensive skills, but the offense will continue to have difficulties if he is running the show next season.

Adonis Filer – Rocky first season for the freshman PG. He showed flashes of potential, especially early against some weaker competition, but only scored in double figures in 3 out of 19 ACC contests. He has a knack for getting to the rim, but could certainly do a better job finishing once he gets there. He has a scorer’s mindset, but needs to learn how to lead a team, get others involved, and how to direct an offense. There is potential here, but Filer will need to mature, both on and off the court, in order for his talents to shine through. If he buys in to the team concept, he should be able to take the reigns as the starting PG.

Damarcus Harrison – There’s no nice way to say it, Harrison struggled mightily with his shot. Forced in to a starting role due to Coleman’s injury, Harrison shot just 22% from 3-point range and 36% overall. That hurts coming from your shooting guard. He was able to keep himself embedded in the lineup because he worked hard on the defensive end and his length was an asset on that end of the court, but his defensive effort wasn’t enough to overcome his inability to put the ball in the basket. It’s still unknown whether or not he’ll be back next season or on his mission trip, but he should shoot 500 jumpers a day, minimum, throughout the offseason.

Jordan Roper – Came on really strong at the end of the year. He was/is the most skilled offensive player Clemson put on the floor. He’s a shot maker, whether it be off the catch or off the dribble. He does have difficulty getting his shot off at times due to his diminutive stature. He needs to learn to use head fakes and draw fouls when defenders are aggressively chasing him off screens. He also does a very nice job of getting in passing lanes and picking up steals defensively. My only issue with him defensively is that his size doesn’t provide much hindrance for 2-guards to shoot over. At this point I’ll pencil him in for the starting 2-guard position next year, but he’ll be in a healthy competition with Devin Coleman. I just don’t see him as a PG. He doesn’t have a PG’s mindset and it’s not a transition that’s easy to make.

K.J. McDaniels – Increased his scoring 7 ppg from his freshman to sophomore year. He’s still somewhat raw and I anticipate him taking big leaps each year he has left if he continues to put in the work. Because of his off the charts jumping ability he’s a terrific shot blocker, both on the ball and from the help side. Defensively I’d like to see him give 100%effort on every possession. He has the ability to be a lock down defender but can get swallowed up in screens and lose track of his man occasionally. Offensively, he needs to continue working on shot. 33% from 3-point range is pretty good, but it’d be nice if he were more consistent. He desperately needs to improve his ball handling. He has a loose handle and it keeps him from being able to take guys off the dribble. When defenders close out on him on the perimeter he becomes very passive, probably due to a lack of confidence in his ball handling. It’d be really beneficial if he could develop a midrange game. He was called for a good amount of charges this year because when he recklessly attacks the rim. A couple dribbles and a pull up jumper would be unstoppable with his vertical. He’ll obviously maintain his starting spot at SF, but his development this offseason into the first banana will be a big part in how success of this team can be next season.

Milton Jennings – Finished up a tumultuous career with his best season yet. He had quite a few games where he got hot from deep, but also had plenty where he couldn’t get anything to fall. I learned to accept him for what he was, a 6’9 spot up shooter. He couldn’t do anything off the dribble or in the post, so if his shot wasn’t falling he was a non-factor. He did develop into a pretty good defensive rebounder. But he failed to develop defensively, especially against more physical PF’s. We’ve talked ad nauseum about Jennings over the past 4 years because of the acclaim he had coming into Clemson, but after reading his story on his upbringing and his insecurities due to said upbringing, I find it difficult to pile on him for any more for failing to reach the expectations that were put on his shoulders due to his overrated recruiting ranking. I wish him the best of luck going forward in life. From a basketball stand point Clemson should be able to replace his contributions, probably by using Blossomgame at the 4.

Devin Booker - Turned it around this year and had his best season as a Tiger. Was the best player on the team at finishing around the basket. He even developed his low post game to be a consistent threat with his back to the basket. He would sometimes get frustrated and drift away from the basket for midrange jumpers when he wasn't receiving the ball in the post. He played with a better motor this year than in years past, although I still would've like to see him play with more passion. He could have a decent overseas career if that's what he decides to pursue. His inside presence will be sorely missed next year.

Josh Smith – I saw enough of him this season to know he wasn’t ready to play at an ACC level, but not quite enough to make a determination on whether I think he can contribute in the future. He is undersized, needs to change his body composition, is a below average athlete, and in his short stints on the court didn’t do anything to show that he has any ball skills. However, he did play hard and get after it defensively. I'll give him a to be determined.

Landry Nnoko - Very, very raw offensively. He doesn't have good ball skills and his teammates don't have confidence in him at this point. But he has ideal length to be a presence both offensively and defensively. He moves his feet well and defense and is able to hedge and recover against pick-and-rolls. He needs to work really hard this offseason on his offensive game. I don't expect him to be able to score with his back to the basket next season, but we desperately need him to be able to finish around the rim.

Incoming recruits

Clemson continues to pursue a JUCO or transfer big man for next season. It is an absolute must that we get one because Smith and Nnoko need more seasoning before being given the majority of minutes of an ACC schedule. We are in the lead group for some, but none have signed as of yet, and we are in the signing period.

Ibrahim Djambo, PF/C 6'10 205lbs - JUCO player from Three Rivers CC in Missouri. Had offers from St Louis, Southern Miss, and Loyola. Recruited primarily by Brownell and Earl Grant, who plan to play him at the 4. He's a smooth player for his size, and has a nice high (though slow) release for what is a solid 3 point shot. Average-Above average on the offensive boards and an average passer for a big guy though his ball security in that area needs work. Djambo's biggest weakness is defensive, he doesn't have enough meat on him to bang it out inside right now, and should be better for his height than he is. He doesn't get in there between the ball and the basket on the dribble drives. He also doesn't fight enough for the defensive rebounds.

Its likely that Djambo will be a bench/depth guy next season and could come into his own the following year.

Austin Ajukwa, SG - 3* prospect with double digit offers, the most notable coming from Boston College, South Carolina, and Wake Forest. He doesn't seem overly athletic in his film, but he is long and smooth for the SG position. He plays the game under control and makes good decisions. He isn't known as a sharpshooter, but shoots it fairly well and has good form on his shot where you can expect him to continue to improve with repetition. He has quick hands, and with his length will be an asset defensively.

Sophomore Highlights:

Patrick Rooks, SG - 3* prospect that was a Clemson lock from the get-go. His mother is a Clemson graduate and he grew up in Anderson, SC. He's a great shooter. He can knock it down off the catch or off the bounce. He's not too tall (6'3) or long, and is just an average athlete, but he's the type of guy that can walk off the bus and knock down outside jumpers like he's shooting layups. Because he doesn't have great athleticism, he will have difficulty creating his own shot. For that reason, his upside probably isn't as high as Ajukwa's. But he is ready to contribute next year in a Jordan Roper type role, coming off the bench to provide instant offense.

Junior Highlights:

Outlook

I believe there is reason to think this team can get better next year. But Brownell will have to get these guys playing hard for each other and doing all the little things needed to win because the talent still isn't here. Why else should we expect improvement? Experience. Experience matters. Look across the landscape of college basketball and the NCAA Tournament and by and large the successful teams are playing upperclassmen. It's always possible for a team like Kentucky to sign five 5* players and compete right away. But that's the exception, not the rule. Clemson has 7 freshmen and sophomores returning that earned valuable experience this past year. They have 2 other guys coming off redshirts that were able to study Brownell's system for an extra year. A lot will depend on how good Blossomgame turns out to be.

With that being said, I'm not expecting a drastic turnaround. The roster still has too much dead weight and can't match the talent of most other teams in the conference. But we can't keep waiting for Brownell to figure it out Tt's time for him to prove that we are heading in the right direction.

I think this is the lineup you'll see next year.

PG - Filer. I'm not sold on his maturity, basketball IQ, or ability to run a team, so maybe this is a reach. But he has playmaking ability and I think he's more of a PG than Roper.

SG - Roper. Roper and Coleman will be an interesting battle. Perhaps Roper proves me wrong and moves to PG, but I think that takes away from his greatest strength, which is putting the ball in the basket. Both guys should see a lot of minutes though.

SF - McDaniels. If he continues his upwards trajectory he could be an all-conference performer.

PF - Blossomgame. He's too talented to keep off the court. He'll provide a very nice sidekick with McDaniels. The athleticism of these two should help compensate for Blossomgame's lack of size for the position.

C - Nnoko. This is by default. He's got the frame and decent feet, but he's not very close to ready offensively.

Bench - Coleman, Djitte, Hall. This is an intriguing group coming off the bench. Coleman provides scoring punch. Djitte provides length and skill at the 4/5. Hall provides veteran experience at PG.

Doc's Thoughts on next Season

Clemson needs a couple things to specifically happen next season for it to be any improvement over this dismal campaign. By position, this is how I see what needs to take place.

PG: Someone has to break the defense down off the bounce, while being able to distribute and score himself. Jordan Roper shows the promise of doing that, Hall is not a starter at this level, but Jordan is not a great passer yet and must work on this. Brownell must get Roper to elevate his game or this offense will be as stagnant as ever.

I haven't seen anything that convinces me that Filer knows how to run an offense, and he's inconsistent as a defender. I'm more convinced that Filer is a 2 now and am disappointed that he has not picked up this offense better before now. The ball IQ seems rather low.

SG: It needs to be Coleman taking this position, commandingly. He shows some very nice things towards the end of the season in terms of scoring mentality and if he works on his shot I think he does well here at the 2 next season. If Coleman doesn't, Rooks better be able to because I don't see Filer being more than a minutes guy until at least halfway through '13-'14 season.

SF/3: KJ and all KJ. He just needs consistency. I think it would be a good idea to work on his dribble drive so he gives defenses a problem off the bounce.

The question is who will back him up? Ajukwa may be it by default. Blossomgame could slide over from the 4 in situations, as could Rooks in spurts.

PF/4: Blossomgame should be addition by default over Jennings. He's a good all-around basketball player, not lazy like the Bookers, and tries to do everything his coaches tell him. I just worry that a new starter will have teething issues.

Again I'm not sure who can back him up unless we go small and 4-out 1-in. Maybe Smith if we go 3-2.

C/5: Trouble. Nnoko may be the man by default and he's a long ways away. Smith isn't ready. Clemson badly needs the JUCO additions here to have any hope of improving our ACC slate. We'll just get raped inside. Thankfully Weinecki is a good big-man coach on fundamentals, probably the best real coach on Brownell's staff.

Thats not to say Nnoko doesn't have a good upside. He's got a good frame, he just doesn't know how to score. He has to spend every free minute with Weinecki this offseason to become a good player.

The offense is going to be different next year. We're obviously going to be more perimeter oriented with 4-1 sets and more motion, which Brownell admitted he didn't run this year enough. We aren't going to be feeding the ball inside much at all and need the Guards to score points off the bounce. Hopefully Smith and Nnoko will give us something with their backs to the basket to keep the pressure off.

As our experience leaves the team, and two players who don't put forth full effort, I'm hoping we see a team that plays more tenacious defense for more of the game. I hope we see a team that is willing to play Brownell's style of ball with higher energy. I believe Nnoko's motor runs higher than Booker's, but he has to find some consistency or he'll get run over. Hall will be a fine defensive alternate at the point, but I'm worried about Roper here - he's got the ability but I question the "want-to" on defense. Overall I'd think we should be better on perimeter defense but we'll get killed on the boards if these guys aren't going to bring it.

Faciltiies

Radakovich made it clear once he stepped on board that he's going to be more aggressive about financing and developing facilities improvements. Obviously we support that. Radakovich stated two avenues for our basketball development: either build a replacement for Littlejohn, or continue with the Annex renovation and addition as was planned. He wants to put his own stamp on the renovation and addition, and is exploring the return on investment for adding luxury boxes, changing the seating structure, or just giving Littlejohn completely to Brownell. Its currently split between Student Affairs and McFadden control.

We are split on whether to build and finance a brand new arena, which is expected to cost $75 million according to early estimates. On the one hand, we want Clemson to have the best of everything, and we know Brownell needs the help recruiting, or he won't make it here much longer. If he succeeds and leaves, or if he's fired, a new arena will help the next coach. The only downside in my eyes is the debt we'll take on for a program that really only generates a few million in profit each year (tops out at about 5M in a great year for us). If the ACC Network returns enough cash to fund this and help Clemson pay it off within a reasonable amount of time, we need to do it, no questions asked.

If a new arena is built, it is unknown whether Littlejohn will be torn down and the new one constructed in its place, or where we would put a 2nd arena. The AD likely covets the agricultural fields beyond the football practice fields along Perimeter Rd. Personally I could deal with playing a year in Anderson or the BiLo Center while LJ is razed and built again.

I would hope that any replacement arena is smaller than LJ by 1000 seats or so, and that they put students around the court behind the benches the way we used to be so that a more hostile environment is created.

Brownell's Future

A lot of you want Brownell out. We can sympathize with our focus on results here, but a coach deserves 4 years. Brownell brought in a new type of basketball that can work just fine, and we knew when he started out that the major problem he would face is the same one every other Clemson coach faces: recruiting to a rural area. He hasn't overcome the problem, and the play of our seniors this year was disappointing to put it mildly.

Rick Ray was his best recruiter, and top assistant, and wanted to play the game with the AAU coaches. Brownell didn't want to do that, and Ray got a good offer. We question whether Earl Grant is an asset in recruiting and Smith is too new on the job to make an evaluation. Mike Wineicki is a good coach but isn't a recruiter either, although he has been out on the trail much more lately.

We do like Brownell and want him to succeed because if he can get good players in here then we know he'll win with them. People who know basketball would like him and can see he can coach. However, Clemson people are focused on results though they don't even particularly care about basketball, as best I can tell. If you care, support the facilities plans in place and help him, or the next coach, recruit to Clemson. Don't call for his head without putting some funds towards the new arena or whatever LJ becomes. Basketball is the only other sport here that generates a profit beyond expenses. Baseball does not.

But we do believe, wholeheartedly, that Brownell needs to show improvement in Year 4. This team needs to be in a postseason tournament in 2013-14. If this team gets worse next season, we'll call for his job too. Results still matter. Thats as fair as we can be.

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