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Crucial season ahead for men’s basketball

Last season’s 17-16 output by the Clemson Tigers men’s basketball team was certainly underwhelming. Clemson boasted a solid senior class desperate to take the Tigers to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in six years. However, Clemson was lackluster in conference play and bowed out from the NIT earlier than expected, making for a difficult final stretch of the season. Naturally, head coach Brad Brownell faced some scrutiny for the outcome, with critics questioning his recent hefty contract extension.


“We played some excellent basketball,” Brownell said when discussing the 2016-2017 slate this past spring. “Unfortunately, we weren’t able to close out some games.”

Supported by athletic director Dan Radakovich, Brownell was given a vote of confidence heading into the offseason, though, setting the stage for the Tigers to rebound in a big way this season, which begins in early November. Boasting a top 50 recruiting class, Clemson is poised to make some noise in the ACC this year.

The end of last season was hampered for the Tigers due to a nagging knee injury for point guard Shelton Mitchell. Although Mitchell was able to play through it, he was forced to undergo surgery in the offseason. The injury likely hindered Mitchell for the duration of the season, as it was originally suffered in preseason practice last fall. Therefore, a fully-rejuvenated Mitchell should incite the Tiger offense, as Mitchell’s playmaking ability as a tall point guard makes him a dangerous threat with the ball in his hands.

Of course, the loss of heralded senior forward Jaron Blossomgame following the conclusion of last season will hurt the Tigers in several facets, as Blossomgame’s leadership abilities and athletic prowess resulted in him earning All-ACC status. But, forward Donte Grantham is back in the fold for his senior season. Also, more experienced former transfers Marcquise Reed and Elijah Thomas are entering their second seasons as Tigers. With all of them serving as valuable two-way players with past showings of clutch play, those three should help to assuage the departure of Blossomgame.

One of the primary issues facing the Tigers last season was a lack of offensive intensity. Often finding themselves stuck in scoring lulls, the Tigers were too one-dimensional at times. With that being said, the addition of four athletic freshmen with reputations as adept scorers figures to change that negative trend for Clemson.

Guards A.J. Oliver and Clyde Trapp and forwards Aamir Simms and Malik William, all three and four-star recruits, have joined the fray in Tiger Town, represent one of the top recruiting classes ever assembled during Brownell’s tenure and are all slated to make an impact fairly early on for the Tigers.

“I think that the class we’re bringing in is as good as it’s been,” Brownell said to reporters about the 2017 recruiting class back in the spring. “A lot of that is because of this facility and some of the things we’ve been able to do and show in terms of more of a commitment to basketball.”

For the second consecutive season, two transfers figure to serve as spark plugs for Clemson, as graduate transfer Mark Donnal and redshirt junior transfer David Skara are both eligible to play this season. Big men with quality shooting touches, both forwards should team up with Grantham and Thomas to create an offensive output down low not seen from a Tigers team in quite some time.

Rounding out the regular rotation for the Tigers is senior shooting guard Gabe DeVoe, who figures to be on the cusp of regularly making an impact for the Tigers after showing signs of greatness for each of the past two seasons. DeVoe serves as one of a handful of electrifying shooters for Clemson. While the shooting touch for the Tigers was spotty at times last season, if the veteran prowess of the lineup is able to make that offensive production more consistent this year, Clemson could very easily be one of the top sleepers in the ACC.

“I’m obviously extremely excited about being back as the coach,” Brownell said to the media at a season-concluding press conference in April. “I think we’re in a time where it’s an exciting time for the future in basketball.”

The non-conference schedule for Clemson is ideal for the Tigers to get off to a hot start, possibly sparking a good showing in conference play and a subsequent berth in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2011. Naturally, expectations are fairly high for the Tiger faithful, as a return to prominence is expected for Clemson due to the high degree of talent that the roster presents. Due to a promising recruiting class and a head coach in need to make a statement, Clemson is in place to experience a season of achievement in a year that could set the tone for the next generation of winning for Clemson Tigers men’s basketball.

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