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Clemson Basketball Check-In: Tigers Exceeding Expectations

Player development, transfer portal hits, improved health, and aggressive scheduling have put Clemson in a strong position.

We at STS had an unusually high level of optimism for the Clemson basketball team coming into the year, but we’d be lying if we told you we expected this strong of a start.

Last season, Clemson narrowly missed the NCAA tournament despite a high win total. They went into Selection Sunday with a 23-10 record, but they did it against the 113th toughest strength of schedule. Clemson’s non-conference schedule was among the weakest in the nation ranking 315th.

Coach Brownell and AD Graham Neff learned their lesson and scheduled aggressively for this year’s non-conference slate. It is paying off. Clemson is 9-0 for the first time since the 2007-08 season, and they aren’t simply stacking up cheap wins against non-conference cupcakes. They’re doing it against great competition. Below are all the top 60 wins they’ve compiled so far.

2023-24 Season Best Wins (by Current KenPom Rankings):

  1. at Alabama (13th)
  2. TCU (37th)
  3. at Pittsburgh (51st)
  4. South Carolina (54th)

At this point last season, Clemson was 7-2 with a good win over Penn State, a reasonable loss to Iowa, and an embarrassing loss to a putrid South Carolina team. The other six games were all wins against weak opponents ranked outside the top 250.

Despite stacking 23 total wins on the season, only six came against top 60 teams:

2022-23 Season Best Wins (by KenPom Final Rankings):

  1. Duke (18th)
  2. Penn State (36th)
  3. at NC State (52nd)
  4. NC State (Neutral)
  5. NC State
  6. at Pittsburgh (59th)

Clemson has 22 regular season games left and already has four resume wins. They still have eight more games against teams currently ranked inside KenPom’s top 60 remaining. While those rankings are fluid, Clemson is well on their way to building a resume far stronger than a year ago. Some are putting Clemson as a 3-seed in their way too early bracketology.

Aside from enjoying one of their strongest starts in decades and being in a dramatically better position than a year ago, here’s what we’ve learned about the Clemson Tigers basketball team so far.

PJ Hall is Healthy and Athletic

Last season, PJ Hall was a good player. He averaged 15.3 points and 5.7 rebounds in 24.6 minutes per game. His minutes were limited mostly due to his offseason knee surgery and to a lesser extent due to occasional foul trouble. He wasn’t as efficient as Hunter Tyson, but the offense ran through him when he was on the court.

After seeing how much better he moves this year, it is much more obvious how limited he was a year ago. Hall has become a much better defensive player. His blocks have jumped from 1.1 to 2.3 per game. His leaping ability and general speed and agility are massively improved.

Likewise on offense, he is now taking defenders off the dribble. He is still at his best showing off his post-moves, but he has an all-around game including attempting more 3-pointers while improving his percentage to 40.5% from deep. Overall, he is averaging a team-leading 20.5 points plus 7.6 rebounds per game. He is Clemson’s star and among the best players in the ACC.

Ian Schieffelin is an Elite Rebounder

I thought about titling this sub-section as “Ian Schieffelin is a Junk Yard Dog” or “Ian Schieffelin is as Tough as a Hockey Player,” but that would undercut the skill gains he has demonstrated.

Ian Schieffelin leads the Tigers with 9.8 rebounds per game. He is by far Clemson’s best offensive rebounder and has played a huge part in filling the big hole that Hunter Tyson’s departure left in the rebounding department.

He doesn’t have the same post-skills as PJ Hall, but has stepped up with big baskets in key spots and is averaging 8.3 points per game. While he doesn’t post gaudy point totals, but has Clemson’s highest offensive efficiency rating (by a hair over Hall). He is shooting 75% from the FT stripe, 54.3% from 2-point territory, and has even made 5-8 on 3-point attempts. He is an elite rebounder, but is also much more than just that.

Joe Girard is Who We Hoped He Was

About halfway through Clemson’s third game of the season vs. Davidson a silly thought crossed my mind. What if Joe Girard isn’t comfortable in this offense and can’t replicate his past success? He was struggling in the game and had just 9 points through the first two games.

Then he started knocking down threes, creating baskets in the post, and distributing the basketball at a torrid pace. His hot shooting helped Clemson make a huge comeback against Davidson and he has gone over 15 points in five of his last seven games. He has pushed his season average 14.4 points and 3.4 assists per game.

In Clemson’s most recent win over TCU, Chase Hunter was struggling and PJ Hall was on the bench with foul trouble. Joe Girard ran the offense to perfection, creating shots with the ball in his hand and moving relentlessly when he didn’t have it. He led all scorers in that game with 21 points. Girard is shooting an absurd 44.4% from 3 and has filled the shooting void that was created when Hunter Tyson went to the NBA. He has been a critical addition to this team and is an example of using the transfer portal in a highly productive way. Clemson would not be 9-0 without him.

People Remember March

It won’t matter how many regular season games Clemson wins if they flop in the post-season. In the Coach Brownell era, stringing together ACC tournament and NCAA tournament wins has been rare. In fact, they’ve never won multiple games in the ACC tournament and did so in the NCAA just once — in 2017-18. That is when they beat New Mexico State and Auburn to reach the Sweet 16.

The two best Clemson teams I’ve watched were five-seeds. The 2007-08 team that got an unfortunate draw and lost to an excellent 12-seeded Villanova and the aforementioned 2017-18 that drew New Mexico State. This team could be better than either of them. I’ve upped my expectations from 8/9-seed to something closer to a 5-seed. That would make for a memorable year, but for a truly special year they’ll have to win some big games in March. That of course will depend on health and matchups. All they can do now as position themselves as well as possible for March and they’re doing that perfectly.