Clemson basketball, why do you do it to me? Whenever I have low expectations, you build me up, get me to believe, and then break my heart. When I have high expectations, you let me down. Why do I let you keep doing it? Perhaps I’m a fool. Maybe it’s love. Either way, I’m sick and ready for some more!
Clemson basketball has not won an NCAA tournament game since the 2017-2018 season’s run to the Sweet 16. This is the team to change that. It has to be because a lot of veterans will be leaving and I’m not sure Coach Brownell can survive another disappointment (metaphorically that is, he won’t drop dead).
Here’s a look at Clemson’s final KenPom rankings through the entire Coach Brownell era:
Last year, Clemson reached 18-4 (10-1), but KenPom — a predictive advanced stats ranking — was still very down on Clemson. Tiger fans were confused and angry, but KenPom was proven right when the Tigers went 5-7 down the stretch to finish just 23-11. The Tigers missed the NCAA tournament and were upset by a mediocre Morehead State team at home in the first round of the NIT. Clemson basketball once again managed to draw us in, only to fail when it matters most — in the postseason. The bar chart below shows how they’ve performed in the postseason under Coach Brownell. Gold shows total NCAA tournament wins, silver represents ACC tournament wins, and bronze indicates NIT wins. As you’ll notice, the bars aren’t very tall.
Under Coach Brownell, Clemson is 7-12 in ACC Tournament games, 4-4 in NIT games, and 3-3 in NCAA tournament games. The NIT losses have come to SMU, Oakland, Wichita State, and Morehead State. The three NCAA tournament wins are a bit misleading. Two came in the same season while the other was a play-in game in Coach Brownell’s first year. The Tigers have only advanced past the round of 64 once in the Brownell era. This cannot continue.
Despite this futility, I find myself pulling especially hard for Coach Brownell. In many ways, he is the opposite of Coach Swinney. He is extremely honest and forthright with the media. You’ll never hear him hype up mediocre players or sugarcoat his team’s failures. He does everything in his power (within ethical boundaries) to make Clemson better including heavily using the transfer portal. He doesn’t have years and years of success to build up equity with the fan base though. In fact, he has quite a few years of disappointment to do the opposite. That’s why the time has to be now.
Time is also short because the core of the team could be gone after this season. Hunter Tyson is already off to the NBA, but PJ Hall and Chase Hunter are back for their senior seasons. Additionally, Joe Girard, Jack Clark, and Alex Hemenway are also seniors.
There’s reason to be optimistic about them delivering in their final go-round. This is a veteran squad that should score points in bunches. Hall is the type of post-player that can be the focal point of the offense. He averaged 15.4 points per game and that figure should go up now that he’s got some more distance from his leg injuries. Girard is a shameless sharpshooter who made 88 3-pointers for Syracuse last season, a number that would have led Clemson. He averaged 16.4 points per game. He was a highly sought after transfer that chose Clemson over LSU. Chase Hunter is a veteran guard that can facilitate and create offense.
That’s a strong trio and they’ll have plenty of support with Ian Schieffelin poised to take a step as the starting PF. Jack Clark comes in from NC State and appears well-suited to replace the strong defense the Tigers lost with Brevin Galloway graduating. On the bench, rising sophomores Chauncey Wiggins and RJ Godfrey proved ready, and Alex Hemenway brings excellent 3-point shooting.
This is Coach Brownell’s best roster since the 2017-18 Sweet Sixteen team. It is time for Clemson basketball to deliver in the postseason and there’s plenty of reason to believe they’ll defy their history and do it. We’ll go much deeper in a three-part season preview we’re planning for early November so stay tuned and get ready for #ClemsonGrit.