On ACC Media day, Brad Brownell was asked by Andy Katz to finish the statement: “Clemson will be in the NCAA Tournament this year if...” In Brownellian fashion, the first part of his answer included his belief that the defense would need to be better. The second part of his answer stuck out a bit more. He opined that the team will need great leadership from the three Seniors: Jaron Blossomgame, Avry Holmes, and Sidy Djitte. In the current college basketball landscape, three Seniors who are expected to be major contributors is rare. The team obviously needs a lot of scoring and contributions from its returning sharp-shooting guard and 1st Team All-ACC forward, but who else will need to have big years for the Tigers to return to the NCAA Tournament? There’s no better place to start than the underrated leader out of those Seniors.
Many Clemson fans fondly remember the vast improvement of Jerai Grant throughout his career and the run to the NCAA Tournament (and the tournament win) that he helped lead in his Senior season. Will Djitte make that same offensive leap that Grant made in his Senior season? Most likely not, but the nice thing is that the pressure is not on him to do so. The Tigers will have plenty of scoring from other places, and on offense will just need Djitte to give the team a threat on rim runs and a big, cutting target to throw the ball to off the pick-and-roll. Where Djitte will have to step up even more this coming season is in the area of defensive leadership and rebounding. If Djitte can stay on the floor and out of foul trouble, look for him to put up some big rebounding numbers and be an anchor for our defense.
No doubt, Clemson will look to small ball line-ups at times this season, and Elijah Thomas will become a contributor down low once he becomes eligible mid-season. However, I would be surprised if Djitte’s rebounding, defense, and leadership aren’t major factors in a few games this year. As has already been covered in our post-players preview, not many players made the type of improvement Djitte made between his Sophomore and Junior years. Look for him to be key in quite a few games in the Tigers run to the NCAA Tournament.
Out of all the transfers that will be playing for the Tigers this season, none will be as important as Shelton Mitchell. The 6’3” guard transferred from Vanderbilt and sat out last season. He is one of the highest rated recruits on the roster as he was a four-star prospect and the No. 76 overall player in the class of 2015. In his Freshman season at Vanderbilt he started 11 games and averaged 4 points and 3 assists a game.
Mitchell is much more of a natural point guard and play-maker than Avry Holmes and is expected to start at the 1 for the Tigers this season. Mitchell’s outside shooting is a question mark, but he should be able to get into the lane and distribute well to our scorers. Although his Freshman season at Vanderbilt was not overly impressive, the time he spent learning our system sitting out last year combined with his skill, natural size, and athleticism should propel Mitchell to be a key contributor for the Tigers this year and an important factor in the team’s success.
Considered a bit of a bust in recruiting after his Freshman season at Clemson, Gabe Devoe stepped up last year to have some big games and hit some big shots. A streaky shooter, Devoe can get hot and put up some serious points, but at times he can also go missing from the floor and become a complete non-factor. Devoe will most likely not start much this season, but will have a pivotal role as an offensive spark off the bench. Devoe could also see some crucial time in a small-ball lineup especially before Elijah Thomas becomes eligible and the front-court depth is thin. If Devoe can give the Tigers consistent outside shooting off the bench and in key moments, Clemson will be a much more dangerous team to play and on their way to a berth in the NCAA Tournament.