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Brad Brownell: Judgement Day

NCAA Basketball: ACC Conference Tournament Quarterfinals - Clemson vs NC State Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

It’s been nearly 13 years since the opening curtain of the Brad Brownell era in Clemson. His hire sparked questions around the AD’s commitment to basketball given that the Tigers had just made a Clemson-record 3 straight trips to the NCAA tournament. As a coach, Brownell has had some impressive wins, some solid recruits who developed into All-ACC caliber players, and a berth in the Sweet 16 (something his predecessor did not do).

But I wouldn’t be titling the article the way I have if this was all sunshine and orange sherbet. It’s now November of 2023. And now, beginning his 14th season, Brad Brownell has seemingly used all his lives up like a cat or someone in the last round of Mortal Kombat. In the past 13 seasons, 6 have finished without a post season berth of any kind and 4 seasons have ended with a trip to the NIT. Only once were the Tigers able to advance to the semifinals in New York.

There have been times before where the walls seemed to have been closing in. 2014 was saved by the aforementioned NIT run. 2017 seemed like the end of his coaching tenure with rumors of a handshake offer to Will Wade that never came to fruition. A Sweet 16 run in 2018 allowed Brownell to cool the hot seat.

Most recently, in the early portion of last season, Brad Brownell seemed poised and in prime position for the chopping block. The Tigers lost on a buzzer beating lob from Meechie Johnson to lose to South Carolina. The Gamecocks would finish the ‘23 season as one of the worst ranked teams in the RPI. To add insult to injury, just a couple of days later, the Tigers were obliterated by a mid-Major by 20+. That same Loyola team would finish the season 10-21. The Tigers had taken major damage early on.

But, as if from the ashes, Brad Brownell’s team endured, rallying to a 22-9 record and advancing to the ACC semi-finals. The Tigers seemed in position to at least make the tournament, but the selection committee thought otherwise. The Tigers would then lose, at home, to Morehead State in the 1st round of the NIT.

This put the powers that be in a precarious position. Clemson did finish the season 22-9 (14-6), good enough for 3rd in the ACC, but they didn’t make the tournament. That’s a lot of wins, but they failed to meet the primary goal, which of course is being part of March Madness.

Since then, Brad Brownell set the world ablaze by not only getting 3 key returning players back, but also by attacking the transfer portal to land arguably the best class of transfers in college basketball for the upcoming season.

This sent a clear message to everyone: Brad Brownell is in “Win Now” mode.

Success has continued in the summer and fall: a run of highly rated commits for the class of ‘25, a projected NCAA tournament bid by multiple sites, a preseason Top 5 finish in the ACC and, most recently, the notes of a 20-point win in a secret scrimmage with Ohio State.

All of that positive momentum is fantastic at the moment, but in the blink of an eye it could be burned up. When you factor in a fanbase starving for a winner given the recent floundering of football (even though it has nothing to do with Brownell), the spotlight shines a little brighter as Tiger Basketball takes center stage.

If Brad Brownell can deliver on the preseason hype, his tenure may have turned a corner to everyone’s surprise. But if he can’t, then this upcoming season and offseason will be one interesting roller coaster. Regardless of the outcome, one thing is for certain:

This season is judgement day for Brad Brownell