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The Case Against Brad Brownell

The stagnation of Clemson Basketball

NCAA Basketball: Georgia at Clemson Dawson Powers-USA TODAY Sports

Once upon a time Clemson had made three straight NCAA tournament appearances, but got bounced in the first round. It appeared that under Oliver Purnell Clemson just wasn’t going to be able to sustain postseason success with a supposed gimmick press defense that would wear the team down as the season progressed.

People forget that in 2008 Clemson was ranked third overall heading into the ACC tournament and lost a close game to North Carolina 86-81 in the championship game. Purnell was dinged for poor evals and recruiting at the end of his tenure, but he left enough talent on the team for it to make the NCAA tournament the year after his departure.

My argument is simple.

We now know what we have in Brad Brownell, we have a long enough sample size and Brownell has stagnated. Of course this doesn’t mean that I don’t think the world of Brownell. It is why this is such a difficult argument. Brownell has endured a really bad deal with facilities (imagine an ACC basketball program inhibited by practice schedules and being restricted in when and where they can practice). Brownell is one of the good guys in the profession and he is a Clemson guy—straight shooting, moral, etc. He also doesn’t attract any NCAA attention to Clemson or the football program.

But ultimately you have to show that the program can succeed in the long term. The ridiculous DRad buyout shouldn’t keep Clemson from progressing as a program.

  1. Postseason Performance/Late Season performance.

No one ever gets after BB for his awful postseason performances. He has had one NIT run, which is like going to the Birmingham Bowl to me. He also used OP’s talent in his first year to win an NCAA game. His ACC tourney record is abysmal.

2017-Loss to Duke after beating NC State—in the 12/13 game

2016-Loss to GT as higher seed (7/10 match-up)

2015-Loss Florida State as higher seed (8/9 match-up)

2014-Beat GT in 6/11 game, lost to Duke

2013-Loss to Florida State

2012-Loss to VT as higher seed (7/10 match-up)

2011-Beat BC (4/5 match-up), loss to NC

Take away that 2011 year and you have wins against a 13 seed in NC State and an 11 seeded GT. That is it. Lots of losing to lower ranked teams. Does the ACC Tourney really matter? No, not in the grand scheme of things. But it kinda does if you are a perennial bubble team that folds down the stretch of your schedule.

Also note that many of these lost games were close (less than 5 point losses) where the team folded down the stretch in a variety of ways. Seems to be a theme of the BB tenure.

2. Recruiting/Talent Acquisition.

Clemson, under BB, will never recruit at a championship level. Maybe no one can recruit at that level (I don’t personally want to put that kind of cap on our program after the new facility renovation and Rick Barnes, once upon a time had Clemson ranked in the top 10), but it is clear BB isn’t close with regards to recruiting. We know what we get with Brownell in the recruitment department and it is middling.

Brownell isn’t a good recruiter. He just isn’t. In basketball if you aren’t bringing in top 150 talent regularly then you are failing (I don’t want to hear about not playing the AAU game excuses, it is the recruiting business and part of the reality of the world of college basketball). Brownell’s highest rated recruit in the last five years was Donte Grantham at number 89 overall in the 247 rankings. Hudson was 110 overall and Blossomgame was 138 overall. Apparently Bernard Sullivan was 88 overall in 2011. The point is that recruiting hasn’t improved during Brownell’s tenure and it isn’t like South Carolina, North Carolina, Florida, and Georgia don’t produce some good basketball talent. His 2017 class is a solid class for BB with a Aamir Simms at 117 overall, but the talent level won’t improve the team or lead to a run at the tourney.

This just shows you how good Clemson is at recruiting in football. A football talent makeover is much more difficult. Basketball teams only grab 3-6 players a year and you can completely reboot a roster in a year or two. Brownell has had a chance to recruit his guys, run the majority of them off and then recruit his guys again. Middling.

I’m fine with Brownell exploring the trade market. It shows some improvement in talent acquisition, but it leads to the next point.

3. Player Development/Scheme.

For someone known for player development, there has been a lot of fail in the past five years of Clemson basketball in that department. If you can’t recruit talent, you better be able to develop what you have got. Brownell frustratingly has trouble developing players, specifically with 3 pt. shooting and anything on the offensive end of the floot. But Brownell also runs off or parts ways with a lot of players too. Remember that guy, Austin Ajukwa? Wouldn’t it have been nice to have a long wing player for depth this season? Gives you some defense and maybe some rebounding along with a developing outside shot and slashing to the rim? We have a long history of these kinds of departures (granted the players don’t amount to all that much when they leave, but Brownell evaluated and recruited them). This is a subjective assertion, but very few players really maximize their potential under Brownell. Blossomgame developed but regressed his senior year. Djitte never really improved like BB needed. Nnoko was a disaster his senior year and inconsistent. Roper, Hall, Smith?? The development of KJ McDaniels only goes so far (and most of that was just his amazing athleticism).

Brownell favors some players over others and has some locker-room trouble. This year you had a Grantham problem and locker-room infighting. This happens in every program that is struggling and losing, so it isn’t fair to really point it out as a weakness. The point is that it isn’t a strength like we assumed/hoped when he came in.

Brownell’s teams lack any real identity. No offensive identity. Brownell used to get by in his earlier stops by milking the longer shot clock, playing good defense, and knocking down some shots with veteran offensive players. In the ACC with a shorter shot clock, it just hasn’t worked. His halftime adjustments are lacking, his late game coaching is not good. His inbounding of the basketball is infuriating.

Every year we hear about Brownell pushing the ball more up the floor and opening things up, but it never really takes hold. BB in key moments tightens up and wants to run a plodding offense where guys stand around and there is no actual motion or offensive identity. He hasn’t adapted as a coach. There is certainly nothing there that makes me think that Clemson basketball will remake itself in any way. When we move to more offense, the defense struggled this year. Brownell can’t find an appropriate balance. He also can’t find guards who can shoot over anyone in ACC play. Once the book gets out on how to defend our teams in ACC play, we don’t adjust and get beat down the stretch when a string of wins would put us in the tourney.

It also isn’t an exciting brand of basketball, which makes the mediocrity even harder for fans to stomach.

Bottom-line: We know what we get with Brownell.

If you want Clemson Basketball to be great—fire him immediately and don’t think twice.

If you want Clemson Basketball to be good and make a run in the tourney every 3-4 years—you fire him ultimately and hate the fact that you ran off a good guy. But you quickly find solace in the reality that you gave him a real chance to make it work and 7 years.

If you want Clemson Basketball to be just average—you keep him another year and are fine with it because you only care about football anyway.

In the end, the only argument for keeping Brownell another year if you want Clemson Basketball to progress is the money you spend on the buyout. GT hired a new coach and improved. Wake Forest made it to the NCAA tournament (all of that nonsense about a tougher ACC and making the tourney is really apologia—if Wake can do it, so can we and the NCAA bubble with the expanded tourney is so soft every single year).

BB is kinda Jack Leggett. He is really Tommy Bowden.

Why not go and find a Dabo Swinney?? I hear Will Wade is kind of a good coach...