Clemson Men’s Basketball Season Preview
By Zach Wagner
The Clemson Men’s Basketball Team opens its season next Wednesday in the Space Coast Challenge in Melbourne, Florida taking on the Mississippi State Bulldogs to open the 2020-21 season. The Tigers will then take on either Liberty or Purdue depending on the outcome of the first game.
Coming off an up and down 2019-20 season, Head Coach Brad Brownell is coming back with a team that “added” more than they lost. The 10th year head coach hit the recruiting trail hard in the offseason. Brownell and staff recorded the 20th ranked recruiting class in the nation, the program’s highest recruiting class since 2009.
After a 16-15 finish last season, and a season ending win in the ACC Tournament Second Round over Miami, Clemson fans were left wondering just how to feel after a rollercoaster season.
The Tigers last half of the season saw a 0-59 streak in Chapel Hill and three home wins inside of Littlejohn Coliseum over top-six ranked teams. With all the great highs of last season, there were also some very low times. A three game losing streak the first two weeks of February was followed up with a two game losing streak to end the season and put the Tigers outside of the NCAA Tournament bubble.
Clemson finished the season in ninth place in the ACC with a 9-11 conference record. Even with the all the upset wins over Duke, Louisville and Florida State, they finished the season with 6-4 record in ACC play inside of Littlejohn Coliseum.
There were plenty of bright spots during the season from the Tiger players. Aamir Simms led the team in basically every statistical category. The junior paced the team in points, rebounds, assists and blocks. The Virginia native tested the waters in the NBA Draft, but ultimately decided to come back and play for Brownell for another season. Gettings Simms back as a leader and teacher of the young freshman is a huge bonus for the Tigers.
Al-Amir Dawes was thrust into the starting role of point guard as a true freshman, and following some early season struggles, finished the season off strong. Dawes hit the last second game winning layup against Florida State in the last week of the season to give the Tigers their third court-storming of the season. Dawes averaged 9.0 points a game last season, but also led the team in turnovers. Limiting turnovers and another offseason learning the playbook will be big keys for the New Jersey native.
A player that made some very exciting plays last season, but also was a player who when he had an off night, it was a very off night, was John Newman Ⅲ. Tigers fans will forever remember the Newman posterizing dunk against Duke that had Littlejohn the loudest it had been in years. Newman was one of Clemson’s best defenders and held his opponents to just 30% from the field. Improving his consistency from behind the arc and stepping into the role of leader on the defensive is something that Brownell and staff are hoping Newman will bring to this year.
Newman also is recovering from offseason surgery on his knee, but should be good to go for the season opener next week, Brownell told the media.
Clemson will also get Jonathan Baehre back after two ACL tears last year as well as Nick Honor who sat out last season due to the NCAA denying the transfers eligibility.
As mentioned earlier, Brownell and his recruiting staff had one of the best classes in the ACC and school history. The top signee of the class was in-state #1 ranked overall prospect in the state of South Carolina, P.J. Hall. The four-star, 6’10 235 pound forward will bring great size to the bench and will be a reliable option when Aamir Simms needs a rest.
Clemson went over the border in this class too, picking up Oliver-Maxence Prosper from Canada. At 6’8 Prosper will bring size to the lineup, something Clemson definitely lacked last year, and showed during ACC play.
Clemson will surprise a lot of people this year. With no real “talent” leaving the team from last year, Brownell brings back his best player and brings in three freshman who will contribute to the team from day one.
The Tigers were picked to finish 10th in the ACC this year, but we could see the Tigers get off to a hot start to the season and ride the momentum to a possible top-five finish in the league and possibly a first round bye in the ACC Tournament.
If Brownell uses his tools and Aamir Simms shows why he was tabbed as Preseason First Team All-ACC, this Clemson team might be scary. If the Tigers can improve shooting from behind the three point line this season, something Sophomore Alex Hemenway will look to lead, Clemson might find themselves ranked for a good portion of the season.
Clemson will open its season next week on Wednesday, November, 25th in Melbourne Florida against Mississippi State. The game will tip at 8:30 pm and will be broadcasted on CBS.