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2021-2022 Clemson Basketball Preview: Post Players

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The Tigers will be a small ball team again and need their bigs to be ready to battle.

NCAA Basketball: Maryland at Clemson
Clemson’s basketball season could hinge on PJ Hall’s development as a sophomore.
Ken Ruinard-USA TODAY Sports

The 2020-21 college basketball season was unlike any other as COVID caused unprecedented issues with scheduling and roster availability, but Clemson managed to put together a solid — albeit uneven — campaign that resulted in an NCAA Tournament berth. Aamir Simms was the Tigers’ centerpiece, particularly on the offensive end where things ran through him more often than not. His departure leaves a massive void for this program to fill as it enters a new season, and Clemson will look to a collection of players to pitch in and try to replace his wide-ranging productivity.

Jonathan Baehre was another nice veteran presence a season ago and also chose to move on after his senior season. The Tigers suffered two puzzling departures to the transfer portal, where freshmen Olivier-Maxence Prosper and Lynn Kidd opted to leave after their first years despite being poised for a significant uptick in minutes. Prosper was a high-upside guy that seemed like someone who could grow into a productive player, but he clearly wasn’t thrilled with his usage. Kidd announced his intent to transfer out of the blue and popped up just a couple days later at Virginia Tech — a place with multiple established post players where he would seemingly have a tougher time getting onto the court. At Clemson, he figured to be Hall’s primary backup at the minimum. Regardless, the Tigers didn’t add a center in the transfer portal and have decided to go to war largely with their returners and a couple incoming freshmen in the post.

PJ Hall

Hall was the highest-rated recruit signed under Brad Brownell and served as the primary backup to Simms as a freshman. Hall’s debut season was bit of a mixed bag. He certainly showed flashes of his high-level talent, but there just weren’t enough consistent minutes behind a star like Simms for Hall to get comfortable or in the groove on a game-to-game basis. While many would have liked to see Hall and Simms on the floor together more, Brownell seemed to quash that experiment early in the season as it didn’t work out to his liking. Couple that fact with Hall’s playing time declining with late-season bench shortening, and his freshman campaign simply didn’t go as he — and fans — might have hoped.

On the bright side, Hall’s sophomore season should provide ample opportunity for him to blossom into a star player for Clemson. In fact, his potential ascension to a major role would seem to be critical if the Tigers are going to repeat the type of success they had last season. Hall is easily the most naturally talented post player Clemson has brought in during the Brownell era, particularly on the offensive end, and stands to see a significant increase in minutes and involvement in the game plan. He can score at every level on the offensive end, blending polished post moves with 3-point shooting ability and a knock-down midrange game. The Tigers may not run their offense through him to the degree they did with Simms, but it stands to reason that he could average double-figure scoring just a year after averaging less than four points per game.

The defensive end was Hall’s Achilles heel last season and arguably the reason he didn’t see more time on the court. He possesses the requisite athleticism to excel on that end of the floor, but the mental aspect of his responsibilities seemed to overwhelm him at times as a freshman. He was vulnerable against the pick and roll and didn’t always hold up against some of the more physically mature veteran players the ACC had to offer. Hall has transformed his body in his first full off-season with the program, however, and should be much more ready to consistently compete in the post at both ends — physically and mentally. Clemson can hopefully expect Hall to grow into a 12-point, 8-rebound type player as a sophomore, and things could get pretty interesting if he becomes even more than that.

Hunter Tyson

After fitting in as more of a role player in his first two seasons on campus, Tyson came into his own down the stretch of the 2020-2021 and was one of the catalysts for Clemson winning six of its final seven regular-season games. Spending most of his time playing as an undersized 4-man, Tyson finished fourth on the team in scoring and third in rebounding as his minutes increased during the second half of the season. He was the Tigers most efficient offensive player behind Simms, leading the team with a 43% 3-point-shooting clip and also knocking down 77% from the free-throw line.

While not the most imposing force at the power-forward spot, Tyson showed a surprising ability to hold his own against bigger post players and crash the defensive glass with a determination that made him a valuable asset defensively. It’s no surprise that his increase in minutes coincided with some great individual defensive performances. Tyson seems primed to build upon his strong finish to last season as a senior and is the likely starter at the 4 for the Tigers. Clemson will rely on him to continue to bring a physical mentality on both ends of the court and provide a secondary — if not primary — rebounder. Add in some timely offense, and Tyson should be a well-rounded contributor as a senior.

Naz Bohannon

The one frontcourt move the Tigers made in the portal was adding Bohannon, a grad transfer forward from Youngstown State. He was a do-it-all type for the Penguins who averaged 16.5 points, 8.2 rebounds, and 3.2 assists per game as a senior. It will be interesting to see how Bohannon’s game translates to a higher competition level at Clemson, as he is a below-the-rim player who is able to use his strong 6-foot-6, 230-pound frame to bully people for scoring opportunities and rebounding position in the paint.

While we wouldn’t expect anywhere near the type of scoring output from his Youngstown State days, Bohannon will hopefully be a dependable player who can give Clemson scoring, rebounding, passing, or defense when needed in any particular game. He figures to back up or platoon with Tyson at the 4 spot depending on his level of play. The Tigers don’t need Bohannon to be a star, but if he could post even half his per-game numbers from a season ago and play solid defense, he would prove to be a more than worthwhile addition.

Ian Schieffelin

Schieffelin was an under-the-radar recruit that looks like a player who could contribute early in his Clemson career. He is a bit of a tweener and projects right now as a stretch 4 type player who can play that forward spot and perhaps even spell Hall at center in small-ball lineups. Schieffelin reportedly showed up overweight in the summer but has trimmed 20 pounds and quickly gotten into playing shape for the start of the season. It’s a good thing, because Clemson will definitely need him.

By all accounts, Schieffelin has a great feel for the game and could be a useful piece on the offensive end. He has shooting range out to the 3-point line and is an excellent passer as well. He possesses surprising athleticism and is able to finish above the rim. While he may have room to grow on the defensive end, hopefully his basketball IQ will help make up for some of his potential deficiencies on that end. Look for Schieffelin to have a role from day one and potentially earn more minutes as the season progresses.

Ben Middlebrooks

Middlebrooks gives Clemson another freshman big man to work with, and while he may not be as far along as Schieffelin as the season begins, he figures to factor into the rotation in some fashion. This is a big-bodied player that can hopefully keep Hall from having to bear the full brunt of the physical post battles the Tigers are likely to encounter. Middlebrooks has some offensive ability in the post and can actually step out and knock down perimeter shots.

Middlebrooks isn’t an explosive athlete, but he is pretty mobile for his size and has the potential to be a well-rounded player once he gets more ingrained in the Clemson system. We wouldn’t expect anything more than single-digit minutes out of the gate, but he could potentially offer more down the line depending on his rate of development.

Final Thoughts:

Clemson has some interesting frontcourt pieces entering the season, but they don’t have the depth you would prefer in a league where they often find themselves matched up with big, talented opposition. Of course, maintaining depth is easier said than done in today’s college basketball, so the Tigers did a decent job of backfilling their losses in the post. It would have been nice to see them find a center with some experience in the portal to give them an extra banger, but selling a veteran on essentially a backup role behind Hall probably wasn’t an easy task.

There will probably be some growing pains with this group, as Tyson is the only player that is a true veteran of the program. The staff will need to grow Hall up quickly into a major contributor for this team to put together a successful season. Bohannon brings plenty of experience and can hopefully help those two in the leadership area, but he may have his own acclimation period coming from the mid-major level. The two freshmen have potential but may be limited in what kind of instant impact they can provide. It will be imperative for this team to keep its bigs out of foul trouble given its lack of depth.

It’s true that Clemson is small in the post — and overall — but the Tigers have been small before and still put competitive teams on the court. The key will be keeping their best post players on the court and getting quality minutes from their young reserves. This team will likely lean on its guards, especially early on, but the development of the frontcourt will be important for determining Clemson’s ceiling.