It’s never too early to start to look ahead to next season. During the coming weeks, we will examine what comes next for each team in the Power 5 conferences and also those outside the Power 5 who could make noise on the national stage. Today: The Clemson Tigers.
Go ahead, name the most memorable moment of the 2014-15 Clemson Tigers' season. Clemson die-hards, you don't count. This is for the generalists. Seriously, guys, dig deep. What do you remember? When did Clemson ping your radar? Anything? Bueller?
Thing is, there were moments. In November, the Tigers beat LSU on a neutral floor. In January, they held Louisville to a 58-52 margin on the road and then won at NC State as part of a four-game winning streak that put them at 6-4 in ACC play. In February, they nearly upset Notre Dame at home. Unfortunately, none of these moments added up to much: The Tigers lost seven of their final nine games. They ended their season with a bizarre first-round ACC tournament loss to Florida State -- which was arguably the most interesting game (or, at least, the most interesting few minutes, as FSU did its best to give the game away) of the season -- and a 16-15 overall record.
That lack of widespread mention was mostly because of mediocrity, sure, but predictability also played a role. Give Brad Brownell this much: His teams guard. For all five of his seasons at Clemson, the Tigers have ranked No. 56 or better in adjusted defensive efficiency, with an average ranking of 36.4. Such was the case in 2014-15, when Brownell ironed out some early wrinkles in time to finish third -- ahead of everyone not named Virginia and Louisville -- in per-possession defense.
Then again, the problems were also predictable: Clemson just plain couldn't shoot, again, for the fourth straight season. The last time the Tigers ranked among the nation's best 100 offenses was in 2011. Since then, they've been a grinding, dragging, defense-oriented group that strains to put the ball in the basket. Maybe that's why you don't remember much of this 2014-15 season: You were averting your eyes.
What the immediate future holds:
That all sounds harsh, sure. But the chaser is more upbeat: Clemson has a chance to be pretty good -- maybe even tournament good -- as soon as next season.
The chief source of optimism resides in the frontcourt. Excellently named junior forward Jaron Blossomgame is returning from a sophomore season in which he was the Tigers' leading scorer -- the only Tiger, in fact, to average more than 10 points per game (13.1) -- and its most efficient scoring force. Blossomgame managed to both lead the Tigers in usage and post a team-high 23.3 percent usage rate, thanks in large part to 54 percent shooting from 2. He also is by far the team's best rebounder, grabbing nearly nine percent of available offensive misses and a very solid 21 percent of defensive boards. Blossomgame also contributes to the Tigers' defense, in that he is a solid interior defender who, like many of Brownell's players, doesn't commit many fouls. He's the perfect complement to rising senior center Landry Nnoko, who protects the rim extremely well.
Forward Donte Grantham, who was immediately effective on the defensive end last season, also flashed some intriguing promise on the offensive end. He is a 6-foot-8 forward who shot 27.6 percent from 3 and yet somehow hoisted up 145 attempts all the same. Perhaps given that confidence Grantham will yet emerge as a genuine stretch threat from deep; it's also possible his 54.7-percent free throw shooting is a better indicator of his shooting ceiling. Either way, he's one to watch.
There are departures here, including senior starters (Rod Hall and Damarcus Harrison, the latter of whom was Clemson's only semicredible threat from 3, and one transfer, (Patrick Rooks). There also are arrivals, including four-star freshman point guard Ty Hudson, who will be asked to fill the Harrison/Hall hole as quickly as possible.
Hudson is generally well regarded by recruitniks. His shooting, however, is not. And that's really the key question: Who beyond Blossomgame can put the ball in the basket regularly? A season ago, according to Synergy scouting data, 28 percent of Clemson's offensive possessions ended in spot-up shots, which were by far their most frequent class of play type. Clemson scored a putrid .772 points per trip on those plays. Something has to change.
The Tigers will guard. They always do under Brownell. Adding some basic offensive competency to that already solid foundation would make Clemson a better team. It also would also make Clemson watchable ... and more memorable, should a tourney bid be in the offing.