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ACC Preview #7 - Clemson Tigers

Clemson could be a lot better but could still struggle to move up.

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ACC Basketball Tournament - Clemson v Florida State
Jaron Blossomgame, left, is reaching for greatness as a senior.
Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

We’re pretty high on Clemson’s Brad Brownell. When he was at Wright State and had roughly equivalent resources, he went toe-to-toe with Brad Stevens, then at Butler.

When he was at UNC-Wilmington, his Seahawks very nearly took Maryland out of the tournament the year after the Terps won the national championship. Only a great three pointer by Drew Nicholas saved Maryland from a stunning defeat.

And at Clemson, he’s been solid even though in the ACC he’s been at a significant disadvantage and one that’s gotten worse over time as expansion has made the conference even more brutally competitive.

But his teams have competed despite being generally less talented than other ACC teams and in particular teams like Duke, UNC, Virginia, Syracuse and Louisville.

He’s been a head coach since 2002 and has only had one losing season (2012-13 with the Tigers).

The last two years though, Clemson finished 16-15 and 17-14 for a two-year record of 33-29.

Frankly, we’re not sure anyone has noticed since Clemson football has been on fire.

Jokes aside, that can’t go on for long at any ACC school and that’s part of Clemson’s dilemma.

They’re not going to get a coach much better than Brownell. They could always go the Tates Locke/Cliff Ellis route and cut corners (Locke was a notorious cheater at Clemson. Ellis never got in trouble at Clemson but rumors have dogged him his entire career).

It might not come to that, at least not this year, because Brownell has a pretty good team on his hands. Some question marks? Sure. But all in all, a pretty promising group.

Start with the elegantly named Jaron Blossomgame. Now a 6-7 senior, his game certainly has blossomed. He’s become one of the more versatile players in the ACC. At 6-8, he can drive and, increasingly, hit from outside. He nearly left for the NBA after last season and will be there soon enough. Blossomgame averaged 18.7 ppg last year and 6.7 rpg. He shot 51.3% overall and 44.6% from deep.

Donte Grantham will hold down the other forward spot. He was a very highly regarded recruit and his game has developed nicely. He could have a breakout year. He averaged 10.2 ppg last season, 4.1 rpg and 2.3 apg. He shot just 38.4% so that could use some work. All in all though he’s been solid.

Elijah Thomas, who started at Texas A&M, was highly regarded in high school but didn’t make much of a dent with the Aggies before transferring. He’ll have a chance to re-establish himself and at 6-9 and 230, gives Clemson some useful size. He’ll be eligible in the second semester as a red-shirt freshman.

The Tigers have some depth at guard.

Senior Avry Holmes came over from San Francisco last year and wasn’t bad although his shooting percentage took a hit (it’s fallen every year actually).

Shelton Mitchell (6-3) is yet another transfer, in his case from Vandy. If his name sounds famiiar, it’s because he was supposed to go to Wake Forest as a Jeff Bzdelik recruit. He’ll probably start at point.

Marquise Reed (6-3) is another import, in his case from Robert Morris and has a nice mid-range game.

Both are sophomores.

Ty Hudson and Gabe DeVoe will provide even more depth. DeVoe, a junior, came to Clemson marketed as a shooter. He hasn't shot that well for the Tigers, but has become fair defender.

Hudson hasn’t had a huge impact yet.

Clemson’s biggest question mark is at center.

Thomas is a bit on the smallish side for a center, but he might be the best bet. Sidy Djitte, the 6-10 senior from Senegal, is still around. He’s probably an average player at best, barring big off-season improvements, but he’s fairly reliable.

Clemson’s next few games with Wake Forest will feature two big, big men from London: the Deacs have freshman Sam Japhet-Mathias (6-11/280) while Clemson features the well-named Legend Robertin, who is 7-0 and 260. He only played 44 minutes last year, so don’t expect too much.

Clemson also adds 6-6 freshman Scott Spencer out of the recently hot Blue Ridge School (his former teammate Mamadi Diakite is a redshirt freshman at Virginia and another former teammate is at VCU).

This should be a solid team and better than that if Thomas comes through. The problem though, as we said above, is that the rest of the ACC is brutal.

There’s the elite tier - Duke, UNC, Virginia, Syracuse and Louisville. We should add Notre Dame as well.

Then there’s the tough-out tier of Miami, Florida State, NC State and, for our money, Virginia Tech.

Wake Forest is rebuilding nicely even if the record hasn’t reflected it. Pitt will have an adjustment period with Kevin Stallings as a new coach and no one really knows what to expect yet.

BC and Georgia Tech are the bottom of the ACC barrel but as bad a season as BC had last year, the Eagles showed signs of being well coached. Josh Pastner will probably have a tough debut season in Atlanta.

We’d put Clemson in the second group and Wake or Pitt might get there too. If you assume that the top six teams will all make the NCAA field, then that doesn't leave a whole lot of room for the rest.

In other words, Clemson could be vastly improved and still have a thin margin of error.

Brownell is a superb defensive coach but he hasn’t recruited as well as the elite schools in the conference. They won’t find a much better coach but if he can’t get over the hump we could see them pursuing someone like, say, Western Kentucky’s Rick Stansbury, who has recruited at an unusually high level.

One really good bit of news for Clemson is that the overhaul of Littlejohn is basically done and the arena will be a huge and beautiful asset for the program.

Clemson’s decision to renovate rather than replace will turn out to be one of the better decisions the university has made for the basketball program. A trip to Clemson is never fun but Littlejohn had become dated. Not anymore.