Clemson Tigers (22-12, 9-7 ACC, 1-1 ACCT, 1-1 NCAAT)
It was our 5th straight year of 20Ws, longest in history, and 4th straight NCAA appearance.
Kenpom Ranking: 22nd.
ACC Finish: T-4th
With Clemson’s basketball season being over it’s time to evaluate how the team performed. I’ll look at the high points and low points, individual player performances, whether or not the team met expectations, and what expectations should be for next season. We'd like to hear your thoughts on the season.
I did not expect too much out of this team at the beginning of the season. We lost our best player (Trevor Booker) to the NBA and were breaking in a new head coach. The roster didn’t appear to be stocked full of talent either. The heralded 2009 recruiting class did nothing during their freshman campaigns to instill confidence in the fanbase. After watching the rest of the ACC lay eggs in their early out of conference contests, I held out hope of a top 6 finish in the ACC. We lost Donte Hill before the season began. Then Noel Johnson (and his father) decided that Clemson’s offense didn’t fit Johnson’s talents just a few games into the season. Playing shorthanded and learning a new style of basketball, Clemson lost to ODU, Michigan, and Sakerlina. Most folks gave up on any Tourney appearance. Some thought we made a bad hire. Even so, I felt we were better than a handful of ACC teams and were only going to get better as the team adjusted to Coach Brownell’s new style. You could see the improvement in fundamentals.
After a close loss at FSU in which Clemson let the game slip away down the stretch, Clemson was able to pick up their best out of conference win of the season at College of Charleston After watching the FSU and CofC games, I was no longer hopeful that we could finish in the top 6. I expected it.
ACC play had its ups and downs. Clemson was 2-3 after dropping a close road contest at Maryland. In the following game against NC State, Clemson came out flat and looked as if they were going to be blown out of the gym. All the sudden something clicked. Clemson turned it on and over the next 3 halves (2nd half of NC State and the entire FSU game) and we completely dominated our opponents. Excitement and expectations were on the rise, so naturally Clemson followed with a stinker at UVA Things went as expected after that, with the possible exception of the loss at NC State, and we were faced with a must-win matchup against Virginia Tech. Clemson played well enough to halt a determined VT squad and placed themselves on the right side of the bubble.
After blowing out BC in the 1st round of the ACC tournament, Clemson lost a heartbreaker in the 2nd round against UNC. Clemson had this game firmly in their grasp and coughed it up. Should Brownell have called the timeout on the final play? Still, with UNC being a top 10 team, morale stayed high after proving we could play with one of the best teams in the country on a "neutral" court.
After receiving the shaft by the NCAA selection committee, Clemson headed to Dayton for a "play-in" game. Clemson started extremely hot and blew the doors off of the UAB Blazers. UAB was able to get as close as 8 at one point, but the lead was quickly extended and they never posed much of a threat. There was no time for celebrating Clemson’s first NCAA tournament victory since 1997 because of some God-awful scheduling by the NCAA. Instead, Clemson took an overnight flight to Tampa, got a little sleep, participated in media sessions, had a short walkthrough to actually prep for WVU, and then headed to bed in order to be ready for the 1st game of the day on Thursday. All the while, WVU was able to travel to Tampa on their own terms, conduct normal practices and film sessions, prepare for the winner of Clemson/UAB, and get a good night’s sleep. If that doesn’t sound fair it’s because it isn’t. Sometimes you have to play the cards you are dealt, but I’d be shocked if the NCAA doesn’t change their scheduling next year.
Here is DrB’s recap for that game. Clemson started out fast and looked to be in control. But a terrible stretch to close out the 1st half set the tone, and, unfortunately it carried over to the 2nd half, where Clemson wasn’t able to fully recover. Clemson cut the lead down to 3 with just over a minute left, but a blown call by the official gave WVU two points at the free throw line. Down 5, Clemson was baffled by WVU’s 1-3-1 defense and committed nearly identical turnovers on 3 straight possessions. That was the nail in the coffin.
It was a disappointing way to end the season. But if someone told me at the beginning of the season that Clemson would pick up an NCAA tournament victory I’d have told them they were crazy. I was impressed with Coach Brownell’s ability to get the most out of the talent he was given. Now I’m looking for him to improve the talent level. In order to compete at the highest level you need to recruit top tier talent. If he can do that, while continuing to develop his players and getting guys to play for each other rather than for themselves, than he can really do some good things here at Clemson.
Expectations Coming into '10-11:
Lets take a look at 2009-2010 stats versus 2010-2011 stats. The first figure (from kenpom) is of 2009-2010 conference only statistics.
Off. Reb. %:
The next figure shows 2010-2011 conference only stats.
Off. Reb. %:
As you can see, Clemson's offensive and defensive efficiency both improved in 2010-2011 from 2009-2010. I know I've stated this many times, but it needs to be reiterated. The fact that we improved on both offense and defense while adjusting to a new coach and system, after losing our best player to the NBA, and losing two scholarship players before we got into conference play is remarkable. Lets hope Coach Brownell is here for the long haul.
|Points per Poss.||1.05-4th||0.92-3rd|
Before I take a look at what Clemson will look like next season, I want to evaluate individual player performances.
Demontez Stitt – Watching Stitt play this season made me realize that he hadn’t been used correctly in Oliver Purnell’s scheme. Stitt isn’t a true point and he isn’t a true shooting guard. He is somewhere in between – but that somewhere is a playmaker. His jumpshot is flawed, as he doesn’t keep his right elbow tucked in. Still, he is able to make enough jumpshots to keep the defense honest. Where he really excels is getting into the paint and finishing in, around, and through traffic. I was very pleased with his play this year and thought he took the step from role player to main man with relative ease. If he were 2 inches taller he’d be a household name. In my opinion, he is the obvious team MVP.
|Assists Per Game||3.0||3.781||3.133||3.344|
|Steals Per Game||0.9||1.5||1.467||1.375|
(columns correspond to increasing years 07-08, 08-09, 09-10, 10-11)
Andre Young – Young had another solid season. You always know what you are going to get with Young. He is who he is – a spot up shooter that can tickle the twine with the best of them. Obviously, his biggest detriment is his height (5’9 on his tippy toes). He needs other players to break down the defense in order to get him enough space for open looks. His shot is a thing of beauty with a picture perfect release. Next year I’m looking for Andre to step up and be the leader on this team. One area where he needs to improve is his ability to create shots for others. Next year’s team is going to be devoid of playmakers. Young has the quickness to get into the lane and create shots for his teammates (think Joey Rodriguez of VCU). He is never going to be a guy that finishes in the paint in traffic. Instead, he should focus on using his jumpshot to setup drive and dish opportunities.
|Effective FG Pct||49.2||53.0||53.3|
|True Shooting Pct||50.3||56.4||55.1|
|3pt FG Att||77||160||202|
|3pt FG Pct||39.0||37.5||39.6|
|Assists Per Game||2.062||2.406||3.0|
|Steals Per Game||0.969||1.688||1.382|
Tanner Smith – Smith can be and should be the glue guy for Clemson. Every team needs a glue guy. The glue guy’s main job is to do all the dirty work – get teammates involved, rebound, take charges, and generally make the hustle plays. Smith does a good job of this and I think he has an important role on this team. The thing that he really needs to work on in the offseason is his 3-point shot. He gets open looks often, but last season he hit just 33.3%. If he can get that number in the 38% range next year he will really help an offense that is in desperate need of scoring options.
|Off Rebs Per Game||0.469||1.188||0.594|
|Off Reb Pct||3.9||5.2||2.4|
|Def Rebs Per Game||1.312||2.969||2.906|
|Def Reb Pct||11.0||13.3||11.5|
|Assists Per Game||1.062||2.156||2.781|
|Steals Per Game||0.906||1.156||1.281|
Cory Stanton – Stanton showed flashes of ability this year, but also leaves a lot to be desired. If you are under 6’ tall and want to make a name for yourself in the ACC, you need to be able to knock down open jumpshots. Brownell is going to have to rely on Stanton next year because his only other option is a true freshman. Stanton’s positive aspects are his quickness and intense ball pressure on defense. There are two things that Stanton needs to work on in the offseason to be an asset for Clemson next year: 1) develop a reliable outside shot, and 2) learn the point guard position. Stanton came to Clemson with the reputation of a combo guard. He is too small to be a combo guard in the ACC. He needs to mold himself into a PG and learn how to run a team.
Zavier Anderson – Anderson is not an ACC caliber talent. He was thrown into action more than he should’ve been due to the departures of Hill and Johnson. Anderson always gave maximum effort, but he also consistently made bad decisions. I’m not going to harp on Anderson too much, but I will say that whoever takes his scholarship is bound to be more talented.
Jerai Grant – The easy choice as runner-up for team MVP. His post game really developed from last year. He added a baby-hook and a turnaround jumpshot to his arsenal that were reliable scoring moves. He was also able to knock down 15 foot jumpshots with regularity. It was obvious that he worked hard on his game during the offseason because he developed beyond what I expected of him. He may have garnered more consideration for team MVP if it weren’t for John Henson. Grant scored a combined 6 points in three games against UNC this year. Grant is an undersized center and was taken advantage of by UNC’s length. I wish I could wash those three games from my memory. Overall, I think it’s difficult to not be impressed by his development this year. He isn’t going to play in the NBA, but there are European leagues where he can find a roster spot.
|Off Rebs Per Game||1.3||1.75||2.419||2.618|
|Off Reb Pct||16.3||13.2||13.2||11.7|
|Def Rebs Per Game||0.9||1.438||2.29||4.088|
|Def Reb Pct||12.0||10.9||12.6||17.5|
|Steals Per Game||0.3||0.375||0.806||1.029|
|Blocks Per Game||0.7||1.406||1.742||2.294|
|Fouls Per Game||1.5||2.406||2.742||2.176|
Devin Booker/Milton Jennings – I’m lumping these guys together because they are both a roller coaster ride. They show flashes that get our hopes sky high, thinking that they have turned the corner, and then they make a boneheaded play that makes you wonder how you could’ve been duped so easily. Both guys need to develop go-to moves by the time next year rolls around. Clemson is going to rely heavily on them for scoring next year. How much these guys develop is going to determine how successful Clemson will be. As stated above, we know what we are going to get with Young and Smith. These guys have much higher ceilings due to their height and athletic ability. If they reach their potential next year Clemson will be a force to be reckoned with. If they don’t develop then Clemson could really struggle to score points next year.
|Off Rebs Per Game||1.125||1.647|
|Off Reb Pct||10.8||8.2|
|Def Rebs Per Game||1.812||3.824|
|Def Reb Pct||17.6||18.3|
|Assists Per Game||0.312||0.706|
|Effective FG Pct||40.1||46.0|
|True Shooting Pct||43.2||50.8|
|3pt FG Att||35||82|
|3pt FG Pct||17.1||29.3|
|Off Rebs Per Game||1.0||1.765|
|Off Reb Pct||9.9||10.7|
|Def Rebs Per Game||1.688||3.412|
|Def Reb Pct||16.9||19.8|
|Assists Per Game||0.469||0.559|
|Steals Per Game||0.5||0.559|
Brian Narcisse – The soon-to-be senior will return for one more season. I expect him to provide hustle plays and not much else. He has unreal jumping ability, but doesn’t offer much in the way of basketball skills. I like that he knows his role on the team and generally doesn’t try to do too much. He gets rebounds, block shots, and throws down a tomahawk jam every couple of games. Guys like him have a place on successful teams for that reason. I’m glad he is coming back to provide a spark off the bench.
Early Look Ahead to Next Year
If you are like me, as soon as one year ends I begin thinking about how good our team can be the following year. Clemson loses Stitt, Grant, and Anderson to graduation. My guess is that Hopkins won’t play ball again next year. With the loss of Johnson and Hill at the beginning of the year, ideally we would want to bring in 5 freshmen next year. Right now Clemson has 4 commitments. Brownell has already stated that he is looking at bringing in one or two more guys. If he brings in two more guys, it needs to be a PG and a C. Here’s a quick look at the incoming freshman:
Bernard Sullivan, 6’8 PF, Rivals 4* – Most heralded recruit. Strong-bodied 6’8 PF with an inside-out game. Has a very well developed offensive arsenal, both in the low post and on the perimeter. He should see immediate playing time coming off the bench.
Kevin McDaniels, 6’7 SF, Rivals 3* - Long, athletic, and smooth. He glides to the basket in the open court and finishes well above the rim. If he adds a consistent 3-point jumpshot he will be a stud. I think he is undervalued right now. His upside is high.
Daniel Sapp, 6’3 G, Rivals 3* - Combo guard that can play a little PG if needed, but would be better served as a shooting guard. Will more than likely be asked to play due to lack of depth.
Devin Coleman – 6’3 SG, Rivals 3* - Already possess a college ready physique. Good slasher and finishes well around the basket. Somewhat unorthodox lefty release. Needs to find consistency with his jumpshot.
Going into next season there are some things to be excited about, but there are also things to be extremely concerned about. I’ll start with the positives. Clemson brings back 3 starters and 4 guys that played major minutes. My guess at the starting lineup, which I don’t currently see any other possibilities, is Stanton, Young, Smith, Jennings, and Booker. That’s an experienced group with 2 seniors, 2 juniors, and a sophomore.
My major concern with next year’s squad is where the scoring is going to come from. Young should be good for around 11 or 12 ppg simply due to his ability to shoot 3’s. Smith isn’t going to give us much on the offensive end. Stanton doesn’t have an outside shot. That essentially leaves us with Jennings, Booker, and the freshmen. This is why it is extremely important for Jennings and Booker to develop go to moves. Booker has been trying hook shots with both his right and left hands. Neither is pretty and both need work. I’ve seen two things from Jennings that I think he can rely on if he really works on them. The first is a pull up jumpshot. I’ve seen him knock down a one-dribble pull up enough to know that with enough practice it can become a reliable move. I also believe that with his length and shooting stroke he should work on a turnaround jumpshot in the low post.
I’m not banking on this team having a star player, so they’ll need to play hard-nosed defense and unselfish offense to be successful.
I’m interested to hear what you guys think. Do you think Booker and Jennings can be "The Guys" for us next year? What are your expectations?
Earlier on this year, when most folks were jumping off the bandwagon and began the long dark offseason waiting for football, I said this:
We know he just lost two players that he wasn't banking on, and we're stuck playing with 9 guys, some of which shouldn't even play in the ACC. He's not going to get us to the NCAA Tourney this year, in my opinion, just because he has no depth to work with. Duke has done it before with basically 7 guys, but those 7 are way ahead of our 9 in talent. What we need to be looking at in evaluating him fairly this year is in the spacing, setting screens, and other fundamentals that we have not had on offense.
What will tell us if this hypothesis of mine is correct is how they progress as they get further through the season. If they're thinking instead of playing, it'll improve just because they have more minutes and practices under their belts. It may not improve before February, but it will get better.
Looks like everything turned out alright. We ended up better than I thought at the time because I felt that the ACC was better than it turned out to be (though we knew it was down).
I could see the change in fundamentals then and the emphasis on player development. I believe BB spent most of his preseason practice time just working on individual fundamentals, and the installation of his system got put on hold. As they practiced it more and more, they only got better. We knew our guys could still play D because Purnell can coach that much, and that carried us over halfway through the year. After that you could see the total package forming.
I wonder now if Trevor Booker would be on my shit list if Brownell had coached him. Would he have been as lazy as he was as a senior under Brownell? I doubt it. He might not have made a lottery pick but he'd have gone higher in the draft at least.
Rarely do we pump any sunshine here, but I have to say that I feel better about this coach than I have anyone at Clemson in the big 3 sports in a long, long time. I'll take a sip of the KoolAid for this one. If he can recruit like he coaches, he needs to be locked up with a contract that would make anyone else balk at the cost.
As I have said before, Clemson's season was a success. The Tigers and Brad Brownell were able to overcome the departure of Trevor Booker following last season and played short-staffed in 2010-11. I was extremely encouraged by Brownell's ability to transform this squad from a street-ball team to a team that can effectively run half-court offensive sets. This team is better than last fundamentally and strategically as BB is a better X's and O's coach than Purnell.
The Tigers improved over the course of this season, winning games in the month of March. Clemson was able to advance to the ACC Tournament Semifinals and win a play-in game in the NCAA Tournament. You can argue whether we were better than a play-in team or not, but you cannot argue that this team achieved more than it probably should have, given the circumstances.
Overall, we appear to be in good shape under Coach Brownell. He is an upgrade in terms of strategy and fundamental basketball philosophy over his predecessor. We'll continue to watch his recruiting strategies, as this appears to be the lone question about Brownell. If he can recruit half as well as he can coach, we will be in excellent shape moving forward.