Tigers tip off the season tonight (AP Photo)
It’s hard to believe basketball is is already here. Tonight the Tigers kick off the 2019-20 season with a matchup against Virginia Tech, with tipoff set for 7pm in Littlejohn Coliseum. Not very often have we seen an opener against an ACC opponent but that’s exactly what we have tonight.
If you’ve come here looking for what to expect from this season’s basketball team, I have to be brutally honest. I have no clue. Back in the spring, after the end of a disappointing 2018-19 season, I thought the prospects for this season looked rather bleak. After some of the moves made over the offseason and the teams play in the World University Games, there’s a little more reason for optimism. No, they weren’t facing ACC caliber talent overseas, but they did show a lot of growth as a team. Not to mention there’s more depth on this team than there was last season.
Jonathan Baehre and Clyde Trapp going down with ACL injuries in the spring were big blows, but with Khavon Moore (transfer from Texas Tech) being granted a waiver for immediate eligibility, the Baehre loss doesn’t sting quite as much. The biggest question is who steps into the role of point guard.
Al-Amir Dawes is a freshman who showed a lot of promise in Italy. However, asking a freshman to be your starting PG in the ACC is a lot to ask, and Brownell has not had many guys make instant impacts in their first seasons. Dawes is a former 4 star recruit and was a Top 150 player so there is no question the talent is there, and he showed great promise in Italy. There’s also grad transfer PG Curran Scott, who comes over from Tulsa.
The biggest takeaway from the teams performance in Italy was the growth of Aamir Simms’ game. He posted one double-double after another. That’s a great sign he’s starting to realize his strength isn’t hovering around the 3 point arc, and that he has realized how to use his size to his advantage. He also showed he is the unquestioned leader of this team, an area the team seemed to be lacking in last season.
John Newman III also showed that he’s ready to take that next step. He’s another guy that seems to have realized his strengths come from playing inside the arc, and not just living off the 3 point shot. With last year’s lack of depth, Newman might have been thrust into a role he wasn’t quite ready for yet. His play in Italy was a great sign that he’s ready now.
This team should get both Trapp and Baehre back sometime during the season. Obviously, the sooner the better, especially Trapp. How soon they’re back could have a big impact on exactly how this team fares this season. For now though, this looks to be the starting lineup. It’s what was used in the exhibition against Anderson.
It’s without question, a fairly small lineup, but maybe Brownell wants to play at a faster pace. Now that Moore is eligible, one has to assume he could crack the lineup at some point, if necessary, in order to beef it up somewhat.
One area this team must be better in is 3 point shooting, and starting this season the NCAA has moved the 3 point line out a little further. Hunter Tyson started to show the stroke overseas that the coaches saw when recruiting him. Alex Hemenway was brought in mostly for his ability to shoot the 3. Tevin Mack and Curran Scott, both grad transfers, as well as Dawes are capable of getting hot from outside on any given night. Freshman Chase Hunter is another guy that can shoot the three ball and one to keep an eye on when he’s on the floor.
Personally, I think the goal every season should be 20 wins while competing for a spot in the NCAA tournament. It’s hard to convince me that isn’t doable at Clemson, despite their lackluster history. Of course, there’s always going to be rebuilding seasons every few years at a school like Clemson so 20 wins won’t happen every year, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be the goal.
This season also sees the conference slate extended to 20 games instead of 18. That gives us two more games against ACC competition, meaning getting to 20 will be a little more difficult.
How many wins this team is capable of this season is anyone’s guess. The ACC Media picked the Tigers 11th in the league, but that was before Moore was eligible. KenPom projects a 13-16 season, with a 7-13 record in ACC play. With the ACC looking to be a bit down this season, I think they can finish a little better.
If the Tigers are to be better than that, they have to win the games they’re supposed to win against Tier 3 teams (teams ranked 121st or worse). They’ll also have to win around 3/4 of their games against the Tier 2 teams (ranked 40-120). Plus they’ll need to do better than the one win they got against Tier 1 teams (ranked 1-39) last season.
I am going to go out on a limb here and say this team ends up being a little better than most think. I think this team can win 17 games and make the NIT. Whatever happens, I think this team is a lot better than most thought it would be at the end of last season.
No matter how the season plays out though, Brownell has put the pieces in place for this program to have a little success over the next few years. He has the chance to show this fan base once and for all that he is the right guy for this job. Now, he’s just got to go out and prove it with results over the next couple of seasons.