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Well-balanced Tigers poised for NCAA Tournament run

This season, for perhaps the first time in the Brad Brownell era of Clemson men’s basketball, the Clemson Tigers lack a certified star, and that has proven to be a positive for a Tigers squad eager to earn its first trip to the NCAA Tournament since 2011. After years of relying heavily on the offensive production of All-ACC-caliber forwards, such as Trevor Booker, K.J. McDaniels and Jaron Blossomgame, the Tigers boast a more well-rounded roster as part of what could very well be the most promising Clemson team of the last 25 years. And balance is the pivotal reason why.

“You’ve got to have multiple playmakers,” Brownell recently said to the media when discussing his team’s versatility. “You’ve got to have multiple guys. That’s one of the big differences between my team this year and some years past. I think that, this year, we have multiple guys that can make a big play.”

With five players averaging double figures in the scoring column and five players averaging over four and a half rebounds per game, the Tigers have a complete team that features a multitude of complementing pieces. Even after the recent season-ending injury suffered by forward Donte Grantham, arguably the most complete player on the team, freshman Aamir Simms has stepped up valiantly to fill the void.

Last season, with frequent lineup changes and games commonly resting upon how well Blossomgame played, the Tigers suffered mightily from inconsistency. This year, however, win or lose, the Tigers have brought the same well-balanced edge game in and game out. 

Settling into his newfound role as a regular starter this season, hotshot guard Marcquise Reed has proven to be the X-factor for the Tigers’ burgeoning offense, leading all Clemson scorers with 15.7 points per game. Perfectly complementing Reed in the backcourt has been point guard Shelton Mitchell, who has thrived since becoming the certified floor general for Clemson. 

Splitting duties with fellow combo guard Avry Holmes in the starting backcourt last year, Mitchell never seemed to settle into a groove, with injury woes not helping matters either. This season, though, with Mitchell serving as the only true point guard amongst the starters, he has played remarkably well, averaging nearly four assists per game.

Jack of all trades wing player Gabe DeVoe has worked especially well with Mitchell this year. After struggling to find his shooting touch last season, DeVoe has been far more reliable from the field in the 2017-2018 slate, tallying an average of 13.4 points per contest. One of the top rebounding guards in the nation, DeVoe has changed the entire scope of games this season with his intense rebounding and defensive approaches, often creating scoring opportunities for Clemson in pivotal situations.

Down low, junior power forward Elijah Thomas has been the linchpin for Clemson this season, fully coming into his own as one of the ACC’s most complete big men. Averaging more than seven and a half boards this year, Thomas has been a force to be reckoned with on the glass. 

Despite being somewhat undersized for someone who consistently plays under the basket, with Thomas standing at 6’ 9”, Elijah has established himself as perhaps the most NBA-ready player on Clemson’s roster, with his shot-blocking ability and superb shooting touch around the basket making him Clemson’s most reliable player.

Fitting the theme of Brownell’s tenure in Clemson, the Tigers also boast several adept defenders coming off the bench. From veteran forwards Mark Donnal and David Skara to promising freshmen Malik William and the aforementioned Simms, the Tigers boast plenty of size and defensive tenacity on a roster that features the most depth and balance that Brownell has ever had the luxury of working with at Clemson.

Bringing a tremendous level of excitement to Littlejohn Coliseum this year, the high-flying Tigers have played a much more upbeat, frenetic brand of basketball than in recent years, frequently totaling high scoring marks and using offensive intensity, as opposed to the defensive prowess of years past, to win competitive conference matchups.

“We want to create an environment with our fan base that this is a difficult place to play,” Brownell said to reporters recently. “And I think it is, especially when we sell the place out and get it like it needs to be. I think this is a great home court.”

Looking to finish the regular season strong and provide the Littlejohn faithful with even more excitement, the Tigers are definitely NCAA Tournament-bound. Furthermore, based on their recent play, the Tigers should be shooting for the stars as it relates to postseason play, with a Final Four run certainly serving as a realistic possibility

for Clemson. 

Deep, versatile, energetic and, most importantly, balanced, Clemson is one of the most dangerous teams in the ACC, if not the nation. And, with the heart of the college basketball season nearing, the Tigers are poised for greatness, so long as they remain balanced.

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