After losing four starters from last years team, expectations were not all that high for the Clemson Basketball program heading into the 2019-20 season. Call it a rebuilding season, a transition season, or whatever term you prefer to use. The only returning starter was Aamir Simms, and despite possessing all the tools you want in a player, he had been inconsistent over his first two seasons. Back in the preseason, the ACC media picked the Tigers 11th in the conference.
After winning the gold over the summer at the World University Games, this team looked like they could possibly be a little better than expected. They won the gold without Clyde Trapp and Jonathan Baehre, both of whom tore ACL’s in preparation for the games, and both of which were expected to be major contributors this season. Then as the season started they lost freshmen Alex Hemenway and Chase Hunter. Two more guys who were expected to contribute off the bench as shooters.
The number of injuries has taken its toll early. After 11 games, the Tigers are just 6-5, and Brad Brownell has only had 8 guys available most nights so far. Slowly, the team is now starting to get some of these guys back. Jonathan Baehre returned two games ago against UofSC, and last night Trapp made his return. Chase Hunter is also expected back anytime now. How much difference they make in the win-loss column remains to be seen, but at the very least the team should see some improvement.
In the teams 68-39 win over Jacksonville, Trapp played 12 minutes, hit on 2 of his 5 shots, and dished out 2 assists without turning it over, as the Tigers broke a 4 game losing streak. If this team has any hope of getting better, Trapp is going to have to play a big part in that.
Up next for the Tigers is a matchup with Yale. At 9-3 the Bulldogs are a solid squad, and have won six in a row. If Clemson can pull this one off, it would be considered a quality win. Aamir Simms will have to keep up his solid play of late, and will need to do so on both ends. The Bulldogs have two quality bigs in Jordan Bruner and Paul Atkinson, and Simms is realistically the only guy capable of defending either.
Yale can also shoot it from the perimeter, and unlike the Tigers have thus far, they can hit those shots consistently. They have six guys that are shooting better than 34% from beyond the arc, led by Azar Swain who shoots the three ball early and often. Defending the three hasn’t been a strong suit for Brownell’s teams the last few years, and if Yale has one or two guys get hot, it could be a long afternoon for the home team.
KenPom predicts a 64-62 Clemson win (59% confidence). Tipoff is set for 4pm in Littlejohn and the game will be televised on the ACC Network.