Expectations are high for Clemson’s men’s basketball team this season, and much of that optimism comes from the senior backcourt tandem of Shelton Mitchell and Marcquise Reed. The modern game is guard driven, so you better be strong at that position if you want to compete for a league title and a deep run in the NCAA tournament. Clemson is very fortunate to have these two proven commodities leading the way for this upcoming season.
The Tigers enter the season ranked in every poll of consequence, which hasn’t happened since the peak Oliver Purnell years, and the team was picked to finish sixth in the loaded ACC after easily surpassing the predictions of the previous season. It should be noted that Brad Brownell’s program has yet to enter a season with expectations on this level, and it remains to be seen how the team will handle them. Signs are good that the cultural foundation Brownell and staff have established will help the team not fall victim to complacency. The league is just too unforgiving to allow an improper mindset to go unpunished.
Point Guard: Starter Gr. Shelton Mitchell (12.2 ppg, 3 rpg, 3.6 apg, 0.8 spg; .399 FG%, .368 3pt%, .857 FT%)
Mitchell returns as one of the best point guards in the ACC, and thus the nation. Described by Brownell as “the straw that stirs the drink,” Mitchell brings excellent open court pace and presence, solid perimeter shooting, and outstanding free throw shooting. Clemson fans got a strong sense of Mitchell’s value when he missed a couple of games last year (both Tiger losses). Clemson was a trendy upset pick for the first round of the NCAA tournament after drawing New Mexico State, but Mitchell’s dominance in that game was a major reason the Tigers easily moved on to the second round. Mitchell brings good size at over 6’3” and can attack and finish around the rim with either hand. This is what a top 100 point guard looks like and much of the Tigers’ fortunes for this year will rest on Mitchell’s health and play.
So. Clyde Trapp (1.8 ppg, 0.7 rpg, 0.6 apg, 0.1 spg, 39 FG%, .33 3pt%, .737 FT%). Trapp came to Clemson as a late blooming, high upside point guard project. The athletic Trapp brings plus size and length to the position and will look to continue to grow into the position behind the veteran Mitchell. It should be noted that Brownell chose to slide Reed to the point during Mitchell’s two game absence last year, so while Trapp is the primary backup at the position, his progress will ultimately be assessed by how his minutes grow from the 7.8 per game he logged last year.
The Tigers doggedly pursued an immediate impact point guard for the upcoming recruiting class, ultimately landing Al-Amir Dawes after missing on Josiah James, so we will have to monitor if Trapp will be able to contend to be Mitchell’s heir next season.
Shooting Guard: Starter Gr. Marcquise Reed (15.8 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 3.3 apg, 1.7 spg, .43 FG%, .354 3pt%, .845 FT%). Reed enters his final season as a Tiger as a preseason second team All-ACC selection. He is certainly the best scoring 2 guard Clemson has had since K.C. Rivers and is capable of putting up 25 to 30 points on any given night. Reed brings a slick off the bounce game which combines deceptive quickness with near elite shot making skills. His ability to create his own shot is one of the major reasons the Tigers were able to get over the hump last season and make a run in the NCAA tournament. Both Reed and Mitchell are very good free throw shooters which helps Clemson close out games, which any long time Clemson fan can certainly appreciate after years of free throw shooting struggles as a program.
Reed has made great strides as a defender since transferring over from Robert Morris and led the team in steals last season. The only thing Reed really lacks is elite size for a 2 guard which is the primary reason he is back for another season as a Tiger. Reed averaged over 20 ppg in the exhibition games leading into this season and is poised for a monster season.
Fr. John Newman (6’6” 175). Newman has obviously made an impression on Coach Brownell and the staff since arriving from Greensboro Day High School in North Carolina because he drew starts in both exhibition games with the absence of Elijah Thomas. He played for a coaching legend in Freddie Johnson and has clearly brought the necessary defensive moxy to earn time for Coach Brownell.
Gabe DeVoe left some pretty big shoes to fill as that third guard, but Newman is further along as a freshman than DeVoe was when he came in and is a reflection of the better recruiting the staff has been able to achieve thanks to the improved facilities and contract status for Brownell. No one player is likely to be able to produce the shot making “Bobby Buckets” DeVoe brought to the table last year, but Newman is the kind of long, versatile wing you are used to seeing in a league like the ACC. His emergence is probably a major reason A.J. Oliver recently decided to transfer from Clemson.
Overall outlook: The Tigers have one of the best backcourt tandems in the nation with Mitchell and Reed, but the depth behind them is made up of Trapp, who played less than ten minutes a game last year, and a true freshman before you get to walk-ons. This shouldn’t be too much of a problem as long as the starters stay healthy.
Once Eli Thomas returns to the lineup, the Tigers will feature more 2 guard, 2 forward, 1 center lineups than we saw most of last year. The team had a couple of higher scoring type of games in the exhibition bouts with UNCW and Barton, which is partly due to playing without its best inside presence and defender in Thomas, but is something to watch early in the year. Ultimately the team will go as far as the big three of Mitchell, Reed, and Thomas (with a nod to the improved Aamir Simms) will take it.