After finishing the 2012-2013 season on a seven game losing streak, the Clemson Tigers are looking to this season for a turnaround. Clemson has regressed over the past three seasons, which may put head coach Brad Brownell somewhat on the hot seat heading into this year. While something as simple as a .500 record may be enough to give Brownell some leeway, that is not a given considering the returning roster. With no seniors and the top two leading rebounders (who were also first and third in scoring) gone, there will need to be a few surprises.
Even with yesterday’s announcement of a season-ending injury to freshman Patrick Rooks, the backcourt is by far the strength of this Clemson team. Junior swingman K.J. McDaniels could be labeled the star of the group. His athleticism is well-noted across the league, but he must become more consistent when it comes to scoring the basketball. McDaniels averaged 10.9 points per game on 43% shooting. He will have to improve on his 33% shooting from the outside if he is to take the reins of the offense.
There is plenty of depth among the rest of the guards, including a talented pair of sophomores. Jordan Roper and Adonis Filer both had steady freshman seasons, and with increased roles, should continue to improve. Roper made the bigger contribution last season, scoring 7.9 points per game while providing a perimeter shooting threat (41% from three). Filer averaged 6.3 points per game in slightly less time than Roper. Both are promising perimeter defenders, combining for 2 steals per game as freshmen. Junior Rod Hall looks to be the starter at point guard once again. Not much of a scorer, Hall only averaged 5.7 points in 30 minutes per game. Junior Damarcus Harrison, sophomore Devin Coleman, and freshman Austin Ajukwa round out the backcourt. Harrison and Coleman are combo guards, while Ajukwa will log time at the 2 and 3 spots.
This is where Clemson could have a real problem. Not only did their two best frontcourt players, Devon Booker and Milton Jennings, graduate, they had little to no depth behind them last year. That leaves the cupboard pretty bare for the Tigers this season. Sophomores Landry Nnoko and Josh Smith are the only returning frontcourt players who logged minutes in 2012-2013. They combined for 2.1 points and 2.6 rebounds per game. Needless to say, they will need to be ready in a hurry. Look for Nnoko to develop into a defensive presence at the center position. Redshirt freshman Jaron Blossomgame will likely play as an undersized power forward as well as small forward when the Tigers want a bigger lineup. He may have the most potential of the young post players. Rounding out the frontcourt are true freshman Sidy Djitte and junior college transfer Ibrahim Djambo. Both are raw athletes, but at 6’10’, they may be able to provide immediate defense and rebounding. K.J. McDaniels may see some time as an undersized 4 if the Tigers want to exploit their strengths and run more.
The Tigers have a non-conference schedule that is evenly balanced between cupcakes and BCS conference opponents of a similar stature to Clemson. The bigger names in that part of the schedule are South Carolina, Temple, Arkansas, and Auburn. In conference play, the Tigers have home-and-homes with Wake Forest, Georgia Tech, Pittsburgh, and Florida State. To be honest, Clemson ended up with one of the better schedules in the conference.
Clemson is going to struggle and finish in the bottom three in the conference. Their saving grace is that they ended up with perhaps the easiest schedule within the ACC and could finish above .500 against the four teams that they see twice. The best case scenario for the Tigers is that the post players develop quicker than normal and they can take advantage of the weak schedule to get to a .500 record. McDaniels, Roper, and Filer could take major strides this year and give Clemson something to build on next year. Clemson will finish in the 11-17 (4-14) range in the regular season.
Frankly, K.J. McDaniels is the only real known commodity on this team. We have seen that he can score, finishing second on the team in scoring at 10.9 per game. He is also a very good rebounder for his position, averaging five per game from the small forward position. With an increased workload, McDaniels could see those numbers in the 13 and 6 range this season. McDaniels also led the team with an unbelievable 2.1 blocks per game at 6’6”.