We entered the season with fairly low expectations. The Tigers were coming off a NCAA tournament appearance (a loss to 10-seed Rutgers in the first round) in 2020-21, but had to replace star player Aamir Simms. In addition to Aamir Simms, Jonathan Baehre, Clyde Trapp, John Newman, Olivier Maxence-Prosper, and Lynn Kidd all left the program.
Here’s how we sized up the team before the season started in our season preview roundtable:
I can’t help but feel the Tigers are a team full of role players with no true alpha and you just can’t win at a high level in this league without at least one of those. I’m guessing the team will be around that media pick of 11th, maybe 9th on the top-end and 13th on the low-end. - C_Craft
I’m not going to project them to make the tournament, but they have the ingredients to do so and are certainly worth watching! - Ryan Kantor
If Tyson gets hurt or Hall struggles, this thing could get miss the NIT ugly. Let’s just say this is a team with a low floor but decent ceiling and leave it at that until we see them in action. - Drew Schneider
Despite coming into the year with very low expectations, they got our hopes up early in the year. They started 4-0 and then outplayed St. Bonaventure for most of the game. Although they blew the game late, they showed they could play with a quality opponent (St. Bonaventure missed the NCAA tournament, but at the time they were considered a top-tier opponent). Little did we know, but that loss was the start of an ugly stretch where Clemson went 1-4. Before we could make our peace with this being a down year for Clemson basketball, the Tigers bounced back with a 4-0 stretch that was capped off by a shocking road win at Virginia! We were sucked in!
Things fell apart from there. Duke postponed a contest at Clemson due to COVID-related issues within their own program. After a long lay-off, Clemson returned to action for a rematch with Virginia. This time it was in Clemson and they lost. They looked rusty and never really shook that rust off. Including that loss, Clemson went 3-11 over the 14 games following the layoff.
The Tigers didn’t quit, which counts for something. They finished the year with five wins before their season-ending ACC tournament loss to eventual-ACC-Champion Virginia Tech. In all, it was another year where Clemson basketball failed to earn any sort of notable accomplishment. This was not lost on the Clemson Athletic Department. AD Graham Neff issued a letter that included the following:
This year’s Men’s Basketball season did not meet our expectations nor those of Head Coach Brad Brownell and student-athletes. There were a number of reasons for the results, but we realize this is a bottom-line game. In the days following the ACC Tournament, Coach Brownell and I met several times to discuss the state of the program, potential off-season changes and plans for next year that would return us to the NCAA Tournament.
It sounds a lot like next year is a serious prove-it year — and it should be. Point Guard Nick Honor is transferring (again), and seniors David Collins and Naz Bohannon are departing, but most of Clemson’s key players are returning.
Two players we hoped would breakout, PJ Hall and Chase Hunter, absolutely did and will be both be back. Here’s what C_Craft said about them in the season preview:
“The two guys I think are most capable of breaking out are PJ Hall and Chase Hunter. They are the two most athletically gifted of their position groups and thus I feel have the highest ceilings.” - C_Craft
Next year, PJ Hall will return for his junior year and if fully healthy should be among the best big men in the ACC. He will be Clemson’s star and possibly best player in a decade. Chase Hunter had a second-half breakout. Through 17 games he was averaging just 3.6 points per game, but over the final 16 contests he averaged 10 points per game. He’s back and will likely become a starter.
Clemson also got a bit lucky and will have senior Hunter Tyson returning thanks to the COVID-eligibility waiver:
Proud to announce I will be returning to Clemson for my 5th year! Jeremiah 29:11 pic.twitter.com/uwPV4vlAFZ— Hunter Tyson (@h_tyson5) March 24, 2022
Tyson averaged 10 points and 5.5 rebounds per game. He had the highest KenPom Offensive Efficiency rating on the team and is a plus-rebounder. He missed some time with a broken collarbone but had a great year overall. Freshmen Ian Schieffelin and Ben Middlebrooks return and provide outstanding front court depth. With them backing up PJ Hall and Tyson Hunter, the Tigers should have one of the best groups of big men in the conference.
Al-Amir Dawes, who shot .398 from 3-point territory, is also back. Clemson likely needs to land a wing in the transfer market, but regardless of what they do to round out the roster, next year should be a big one where the the expectations are elevated. I’m as tired of saying “wait until next year” as you are, but we finally seem to have an athletic director who is as tired of it as we are.
Since Clemson’s 1997 Sweet 16 run, they have only reached the Sweet 16 or Round of 32 once (2018). After watching Virginia Tech win the ACC tournament and Miami make a run to the Elite Eight, we know Clemson basketball can accomplish so much more than they have historically. This season was undoubtedly a failure, but there are high-expectations for next year and we seem to have an athletic director who is willing to hold the program accountable to those expectations. Next year will be a big year one way or another, even though this one certainly was not.