Last Year: The Tigers went 19-13 overall, 7-9 in the ACC, and two rounds into the NIT before being knocked out by Louisville. They did so as a team inordiantely fond of the three pointer, second only to N.C. State in the percentage of shots that were behind the arc. Their offensive efficiency was rather poor in the league, but the true flaw was on defense, where opponents shot better, outrebounded, and spent more time at the line against Clemson than they did almost anywhere else. The one bright point was their ability to generate a turnover, best in the league and good for a turnover every fourth possession.
Comings and Goings: Clemson also returns almost all of its players, losing only Akin Akingbala (12.1 ppg, 8.1 rpg), the power forward who had been at Clemson since what seems the mid-1980's, and Shawan Robinson (12.3 ppg, 2.7 apg) at guard. The remaining starters have a great deal of experience, a fact I think is being undercounted in a lot of preseason predictions.
Leading the group is senior point guard Vernon Hamilton (12.0 ppg, 3.0 apg) the latest such guard in the mold of Terrell McIntyre and Edward Scott. Hamilton holds or is gunning for most steal records at Clemson and in the ACC, and accounts for a lot of the team's turnover advantage. He's joined by James Mays (9.2 ppg, 7.6 rpg), a force in the paint who sat out the spring semester last year for poor academics.
Another player expected to spend a lot of time in the back court is Cliff Hammonds (10.1 ppg, 3.3 apg). Hammonds stats also hide his impressive defense, which can be more stifling than Hamilton's. Rounding out the returning members of the starting five is Sam Perry (6.3 ppg, 3.0 rpg) a small forward with less playing experience than the rest of the returnees.
The new guy getting his name called in introductions is Trevor Booker, a freshman power forward obviously tired of wearing a Yellow jacket on his uniform. Clemson has never had the talent to be a very deep team, and that won't change this year - but K.C. Rivers (7.1 ppg, 4.8 rpg) will get a fair amount of time in the backcourt, and an improvement in his sophomore year could make him a threat come conference season. Julius Powell (5.5 ppg, 2.7 rpg) and Raymond Sykes (1.1 ppg, 1.1 rpg) will come of the bench to play in the paint, but again depth is in short supply on this team.
The Outlook: I admit, I value experience more than freshman talent, and this year's roster over historical results, so I'm biased towards overestimating this team's chances. It sounds silly, especially after a near-collapse against Old Dominion on Sunday, but I think they'll do better than popular mid-level pick Georgia Tech and will be a threat to more teams in the conference than people are used to expecting. They still won't get the win in Chapel Hill, though.
Preseason Poll Finish: 9th. Definitely underestimating the Tigers.
- Carolina March Forecast: 7-9 in the ACC's, and a surprise Sweet 16 appearance.