In the 13 years of the Coach Brownell era, the Tigers have advanced past the NCAA Round of 64 just once. As such, perhaps expectations should be severely limited. This would be safe and fair, but I’m not doing it. This season is the pay-off for Clemson basketball fans who have supported a program that has mostly disappointed them for the five years since the Sweet 16 run. It has to be now and it will be.
Clemson lost two starters in Hunter Tyson and Brevin Galloway. Those are big losses. Tyson was Clemson’s most efficient scorer and rebounder. Brevin Galloway was an athletic on-ball defender. The duo also combined for 133 3-pointers (47% of the team’s total). Normally, you’d expect the team to take a step back after losing all of that, but Coach Brownell took action.
The Tigers went into the transfer portal and added four immediate impact players. The biggest name is Joe Girard, a highly-coveted scorer from Syracuse who LSU was also going after. Clemson also added Jack Clark from NC State to replace the defense they lose with Galloway departing. Clark is recovering from a hernia did not have a healthy offseason, but he’ll add a key defensive presence when he gets close to 100%. Additionally, they landed 6-5 combo guard Jake Heidbreder who averaged over 15 points per game at Air Force last season.
Clemson lost one player — Ben Middlebrooks — to the transfer portal, but they managed to find a quick replacement for him too. Bas Leyte from UNC Greensboro comes in to fill his role as the back-up center who can rebound and provide rim protection.
Coach Brownell understands the urgency of the season and has built his roster accordingly. With team centerpiece PJ Hall and offensive catalyst PG Chase Hunter in their senior seasons, this is the year to make a run. Next year may be a rebuild.
So what’s the path for the Tigers this season? Let’s look at their full season schedule:
2023-24 Clemson Basketball Schedule
|Winthrop||Home||Monday, Nov 6||Win|
|UAB||Neutral||Friday, Nov 10||Win|
|Maryland or Davidson||Neutral||Sunday, Nov 12||N/A|
|Boise St.||Home||Sunday, Nov 19||Win|
|Alcorn St.||Home||Friday, Nov 24||Win|
|Alabama||Road||Tuesday, Nov 28||Loss|
|Pitt||Road||Sunday, Dec 3||Toss-up|
|South Carolina||Home||Wednesday, Dec 6||Win|
|TCU||Neutral||Saturday, Dec 9||Toss-up|
|Memphis||Road||Saturday, Dec 16||Loss|
|Queens||Home||Friday, Dec 22||Win|
|Radford||Home||Friday, Dec 29||Win|
|Miami||Road||Wednesday, Jan 3||Loss|
|UNC||Home||Saturday, Jan 6||Toss-up|
|Virginia Tech||Road||Wednesday, Jan 10||Toss-up|
|Boston College||Home||Saturday, January 13||Win|
|Georgia Tech||Home||Tuesday, January 16||Win|
|FSU||Road||Saturday, January 20||Toss-up|
|Duke||Road||Saturday, January 27||Loss|
|Louisville||Home||Tuesday, January 30||Win|
|Virginia||Home||Saturday, February 3||Toss-up|
|UNC||Road||Tuesday, February 6||Loss|
|Syracuse||Road||Saturday, February 10||Win|
|Miami||Home||Wednesday, February 14||Toss-up|
|NC State||Home||Saturday, February 17||Win|
|Georgia Tech||Road||Wednesday, February 21||Win|
|FSU||Home||Saturday, February 24||Win|
|Pitt||Home||Tuesday, February 27||Win|
|Notre Dame||Road||Saturday, March 2||Win|
|Syracuse||Home||Tuesday, March 5||Win|
|Wake Forest||Road||Saturday, March 09||Toss-up|
Clemson went 8-3 in non-conference play last season, but that ended up being an anchor on their resume because they played just two teams that finished ranked in KenPom’s top 125 (going 1-1 against them) and picked up two losses to a teams outside the top 220. They became major red flags on their resume the rest of the year.
Clemson learned from that and scheduled a much more challenging non-conference slate. They currently have six non-conference opponents in the top 100. Should they square off off with Maryland in the Asheville Championship, it will be seven top 100 teams! If they can go 8-3 again or even 7-4 they’ll be in a much better spot than they were last year. KenPom projects 6.54 non-conference wins. Mixed into non-conference play in an ACC road trip to Pittsburgh that will play an out-sized role in how we assess that first portion of the schedule.
When the schedule turns to pure ACC play in January, it starts fast. Clemson goes to Miami, who just played in the Final Four, comes home to play North Carolina, and then goes on the road to face Virginia Tech. They need to avoid losing all three, especially if they don’t beat Pitt.
By this point, the Tigers should have collected at least a few resume wins. Perhaps they have wins against teams like TCU, Memphis, and Pittsburgh they can hang their hat on even if their overall record isn’t sterling. When February hits, it’s time to start stacking Ws.
Virginia at home will be tough (although KenPom favors the Tigers) and a trip to Chapel Hill will likely result in a loss. After that Clemson is favored in eight straight games and only a 49%-51% underdog in their final game at Wake Forest.
KenPom has the Tigers finishing at 18-12. That’s not going to cut it. This team needs to earn their way into the NCAA tournament during the regular season. They’ve never won multiple ACC Tournament games under Coach Brownell. The Tigers have the talent to put together a special year. They’ll need to weather the storm through the first half of the year as they gel and take some lumps against top competition and then rack up wins and finish hot in February and March. Anything less than 20 regular season wins against a much improved schedule would be a disappointment.
I believe Clemson has a legitimate shot at another 2017-18 type season where they win one or more NCAA tournament games. If not, the future looks bleak as they have six seniors on this squad. In that case, it would likely be the right time to begin a new era of Clemson basketball. There is a lot riding on this season and it may conclude with fans celebrating one of the best Tiger basketball teams in recent memory.