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Assessing Clemson's Roller Coaster Basketball Season

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Clemson sits at 86th in KenPom's team rankings, but holds five wins against teams ranked above them and six losses to teams ranked below. What do we make of such an up-and-down debacle?

Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports

Clemson's first 10 games epitomized the roller coaster their fans unwittingly boarded. During that stretch, Clemson picked up two of their best wins of the year, beating LSU and Arkansas. They also lost games to Winthrop, Gardner Webb, Rutgers, and of course South Carolina. This up-and-down ride continued all season, so we here we take a look at some of the most exciting wins and some of the most ridiculous losses before discussing, what next.

The Highlights

After losing to Winthrop, Clemson packed their bags and headed to the Virgin Islands where they promptly lost to Gardner Webb. They bounced back by beating a bad Nevada team and then concluding the trip with a upset win over LSU in which four Clemson starters scored in double-digits. The key was Clemson's advantage from three, shooting .353 compared to LSU's .077.

They'd add another solid win, getting a home win over Arkansas after losing to the Razorback in the Natural State a year ago.

ACC play got off to an 0-2 start, but quickly rebounded when they beat Pittsburgh and Syracuse on consecutive Saturday's. They'd add one more marquee win later, when they clung to a lead and escaped Raleigh with a 68-57 win over the Wolfpack.

Objectively, the best win was probably the win at NC State given it was a road game. You could also make an argument for Arkansas, who finished second in the SEC and was likely the best team Clemson defeated. Subjectively though, the Syracuse and Pittsburgh wins were the most enjoyable. At the time of the Pittsburgh win, we didn't yet know what to expect from the Panthers and assumed them to be a tournament team. With Clemson sitting at 8-6 (0-2), you couldn't help, but wonder if there was a reason to continue watching. That win provided it.

As for the Syracuse win, the 13-point home victory may have been the most emotionally rewarding. Rod Hall played his most effective defensive game of the year holding Junior Trevor Cooney without a field goal (0-7). Rakeem Christmas was left to do all the work and was the only Syracuse player to finish with 12+ points or an offensive rating over 100. The loss snapped a seven-game Syracuse win streak and set them on course for a tailspin, as they finished 5-9 from the Clemson game on. Meanwhile news of NCAA's investigation resulting in harsh penalties was starting to leak out and the sanctions mentioned are likely to extend Syracuse's tailspin many years into the future. As for Clemson, it was the start of a 5-1 stretch through ACC play that was the peak of the season.

Drink it in Tiger fans, that was as good as it got this season, and as you read the next section, you'll remember it got pretty bad too.

The Lowlights

Starting the season 1-2 with losses to Winthrop and Gardner Webb was downright embarrassing. It should never happen, there's no excuse, and nobody should complain about fan attendance after it happens. The season was largely wasted before the focus even shifted from football season, but that's also the fortunate part - focus was still on football. Clemson fans were busy bemoaning the football team's loss to Georgia Tech and fretting over Deshaun Watson's health to be concerned with a basketball team that looked lifeless without K.J. McDaniels.

When the calendar hit December, and Clemson had rightfully regained the Palmetto Bowl from their football rivals, attention shifted to the ACC/B1G Challenge in which Clemson hosted Rutgers. Clemson already had the two ugly losses and nearly lost to High Point just a few days before, but they had also just beat LSU on the previous Monday and it felt like a win here - before three straight SEC opponents - would have the season back on track.

Clemson trailed by one at halftime, but held a slim lead heading into the final 10 minutes of the game. Their turnovers finally caught up with them though as they were outscored 13-21 in those final minutes and lost the game, 64-69. They finished with 13 turnovers compared to Rutgers' 3, a common theme in many of their losses.

Rutgers would finish the season 218th in KenPom, making them the third worst team Clemson played and the worst they lost to all year. Although they managed to beat Wisconsin in one of the biggest upsets of the year, the Scarlet Knights closed their year by losing 15 straight B1G games.

That loss dropped Clemson to 4-3 on the season, and because of just how bad those three losses were, any realistic prospects of an NCAA tournament hunt were killed before conference play even began.

Three other losses really stand out. Clemson headed to Columbia to face a Gamecock team playing what would end up being their best basketball of the season. Sitting at 6-3, Clemson needed a win to feel even mediocre about their non-conference results. They played the Cocks to a two-point Tiger lead at halftime before floundering in the second half - scoring just 15 more points - and losing 45-68. It was an exclamation point on the failure of the non-conference play and a foreboding sign for what the offense would do the rest of the year.

Clemson entered the season with a 10-game winning streak against the Yellow Jackets, but in their matchup in Atlanta, Clemson had 16 turnovers and was out-shot as they faded away throughout the game and gave Georgia Tech one of their three ACC wins. The loss can be looked at as one down the stretch that knocked them out of the NIT.

Finally, the loss that ended the season was Clemson's second against FSU. The Tigers lost to the 'Noles three times in 2012-13, split in 2013-14, and lost two of three in 2014-15. When you tack that onto three straight losses in football, that's a 2-9 record against arguably our chief ACC rival in the two sports that drive revenue. That's not acceptable!

What Now?

Clemson loses their steady veteran point guard Rod Hall, who scored a career high 25 points in his final game. They also lose shooting guard Demarcus Harrison. Fortunately, they have Avry Holmes eligible next season. Holmes is a transfer from San Francisco who blew me away with his shooting percentages: 83% from the line, 43% from three. At 6'2", he could be the Tigers' starting point guard while also seeing some minutes at the two-guard. He is the player I'm most excited to see next season.

Another newcomer is Ty Hudson. Hudson, a 6'1" Atlantan, could see time at point guard if Brownell continues to prefer DeVoe at the two. If Hudson is ready for such a role, it would give the Tigers some depth at point guard, something they haven't had since Demontez Stitt and Andre Young were teammates.

The other newcomer is Legend Robertin. the seven-foot JUCO may not be ready to play at an ACC-level, as his 220lbs weight (according to his 247 page) would suggest, but that is generally the case with Clemson big men. The bigger impact will be made by Nnoko. Will he continue to regress, or will he reverse trend and become the great player we thought he would be coming into the season?

The biggest reason this team fell short of our expectations, is that our prediction for the team's success relied heavily on Nnoko's continued development, and it didn't come to fruition:

Landry Nnoko showed great progress throughout last season and can be one of the better true centers in the conference. - Ryan Kantor, 2014-15 Season Preview


Landry Nnoko should take another huge step toward becoming a great post player - Jay Ingles, 2014-15 Season Preview

Hopefully Nnoko bounces back. If Holmes meets the somewhat lofty expectations I have for him, Grantham has a productive offseason, and Nnoko gets on track, expect Clemson to be improved next season, even playing out of Greenville. Clemson has been hit by transfers somewhat regularly, so we'll expect that news to hit soon.

Be sure to check out the season recap video below that friend of the site Mark Rogers shot with us and check back for more articles recapping the Clemson basketball season.