Clemson is coming off of a very successful '08-'09 campaign, where the Tigers were 23-9 overall, 9-7 in ACC play, and finished 5th in the conference. Here are the University's year ending notes from last season. The year was highlighted with a win over then #3 Duke to begin the month of February. Clemson earned a birth in the NCAA tourney where the Tigers were ousted in the 1st round by Michigan.
Our 2008-2009 Post season wrap-up, posted in March after the Michigan defeat. It details much of our offensive and defensive philosophy as well as what we did good and bad as the season progressed. At the time we posted this:
Clemson basketball is in the best position it has been in during its history. We've won more games the last few years than ever before. We're recruiting better than we have since the days when Horace Grant and Dale Davis were here. Overall, we rebound great, we shoot well most of the time, and we have a good bench. We have a good coach who, if you have a brain, you want to keep as much as I do and who deserves his salary.
OP in the post-tourney presser said the defense was what failed us down the stretch, but we made mention of the turnover problem several times last season here on the blog, as well as an inability to stop the other team's Guard play, the lack of presence inside, getting whipped in transition (also guard play), and the lack of a pure scorer (a la Will Solomon). Hopefully this has been addressed in the offseason.
Now as for this season....
An excellent ACC Season Preview by Wake Forest's Blogger so Dear
Going through the schedule, theres no reason why this team should have more than 1 loss going into Cameron Indoor after New Years for the start of ACC play. Illinois will come to Littlejohn, and the 76 Classic tournament is winnable.
Clemson comes into this season ranked 24 in both the AP and ESPN/USA Today polls. Head Coach Oliver Pernell is optimistic about the upcoming season and about his star Forward, stating :
I feel he (T. Booker) is a legitimate all-America candidate and is one of the top players in a great league....I think if we do that (win more than last year) this year as we look around the ACC, we've got a chance to win it
Losses: From last season, Clemson loses a lot of offensive firepower and jump shooting ability. K.C. Rivers' graduation and Oglesby's ridiculous decision to play ball in Europe leave this team without two key scorers from last season.
With the loss of Rivers and Oglesby, Clemson loses a lot of jump shooting, scoring ability, and offensive guard play ability from a year ago. Rivers and Oglesby combined for an average of 25.4 PPG that will have to be replaced in some fashion. Unless guys step up, expect to see a good bit of Noel Johnson shooting the ball from the outside this season.
Oglesby's leave will, however, definitely not hurt this team on the defensive end of the court and through dumbass fouls at inopportune times in basketball games. Clemson will definitely need better play out of Demontez Stitt and Potter this season to live up to any of the hype being distributed this preseason. The lack of a pure shooter on the perimeter means we will be seeing more zone defense this year, and that means that Booker will have a tougher road.
"We are going to have to knock down some outside shots to prove that we can make it," Purnell said. "We will probably see more zone defense this year."
New talent: Oliver Purnell has, however, done a fantastic job recruiting. OP (with great recruiter S. Smart) brought in top 100 players Milton Jennings, Noel Johnson, and Devin Booker, and added guard Donte Hill. These guys build on a strong foundation laid since Larry Shyatt's exit from this program. The Tigers will need some help from these freshmen, as there are some obvious holes to fill from last season. Since we play most of the team every game due to the up-tempo Press, you can expect them to be on the Court.
Finally, McDonald's All-American Milton Jennings has arrived in Tigertown with much fanfare. I cannot wait to get him on the floor and watch him beat and bang in the paint for the Tigers. Jennings is without a doubt a jam-up player out of high school, and Purnell's ability to woo him to Clemson speaks volumes about the coach and the state of the program. The only question is whether he has the muscle mass required to play inside in the toughest league in the country.
The strength of this basketball team obviously lies with All-America candidate Trevor Booker. He led the ACC in rebounds per game (9.7) and field goal percentage (.571) last season. Booker is a popular choice for preseason ACC player of the year and has been included in various Award Watch Lists. Clemson will also need better guard play to have the ability to feed Booker the basketball. At times last season Clemson could not get the ball to its big man. This lack of touches really hurt CU offensively down the stretch. A few baskets from the outside will go a long way to clearing things out inside to let TB do his thing.
"This team is probably the most talented team I’ve been on since coming to Clemson," Booker said. "The only thing that can hold us back is our effort."
"We’re looking to get over winning our first game in the NCAA tournament," he said. "Last year K.C. (Rivers) was the leader. This year I’m looking to be more vocal."
If this team can get some outside play from the Guards, we expect Booker to have a big year. Without it, teams within this conference will zone us and collapse on Booker every time he gets the ball. Tanner Smith supposedly had a good stroke in High School, and certainly puts forth the effort on the Court. Andre Young may be the best player of them all, and we also expect him to unseat Stitt as the starter at the Point, and has been underrated as a shooter. He came in with a great stroke and perimeter shooting will be a premium against zone. Either of them has the ability to take the ball up the lane, and we hope to see them do it more often this year.
Our opinion of this team is that it will be on par with last year's squad in terms of success. Clemson obviously has a great player down low in Trevor Booker. However, Booker will need some support throughout the season. The biggest concern here is guard play, offensively and defensively in transition. Clemson will need to improve at the point this season as well. Last season's PG play was marginal at best. We were particularly frustrated with the Tiger's inability to feed Booker the rock all night. Rivers was a good scorer, but not a great one, and not great at assisting.
The Tigers historically get off to a fast start against patsies, then peter out towards the end of the year (in '08, ended the season winning only 4 of the final 9, then got punked in the first rd of the ACC (against G. Tech) and NCAA's (Michigan). If Clemson wants to be a serious contender in the ACC, the Tigers will need to find a way to finish strong for once.
Predictions on the season: There are really too many question marks and the Tigers are going to be dependent on too many inexperienced participants. We are not convinced at this point, specifically after watching Clemson down the stretch, that Clemson will be able to get into a half court set and successfully get Booker as many looks as he will need. That being said, this is the deepest team that we can remember, and should see significant action out of a good portion of the roster each night.
FF: All said, I believe that Clemson will finish with 25 wins this season and finish 4th in the ACC behind UNC, Duke, and Wake Forest with 10 league victories. Clemson should be positioned for a decent NCAA seed, and I think the Tigers will make it to the Sweet 16 this spring.
DrB: i'm more worried about transition and Guard play than Booker. He's going to have games where he only pulls 10 points, and he'll get his 10 Rebs per, but when will he have those 10 point games? We play teams that can challenge us inside and he'll need help inside too. Are the new guys big enough to play inside in the ACC? I don't think so yet. I wish we had a pure scorer and shooter outside, which would really set up Book for a monster year.
Still, I believe in OP. I stood under those goalposts for 4 years of Shyatt, and that was some shitty basketball. OP can figure out solutions to problems and this team played good defense most of the year, and should be better given his offseason emphasis. I think 23-25 wins and 10 league victories is likely. If we make it out of the first round of the NCAAs, I'll be happy, but I think we do make it to the Sweet 16
Your thoughts and expectations?