ACC Basketball Preview: Clemson

2015-16 Clemson record: 17-14 (10-8 ACC)

Clemson has a newly renovated Littlejohn Coliseum to call home this season and Brad Brownell is hopeful that the Tigers can get back to the NCAA Tournament in a heavily competitive ACC.

“I think we have an opportunity, certainly,” Brownell told the media. “This is my seventh year at Clemson, and I would say it’s the deepest ACC I’ve seen. I think if you ask probably 13 coaches right now, they all — 13 out of the 15 think they have enough talent, experience to make an NCAA Tournament.

Reaching the tournament will be a tremendous challenge in the crowded ACC, but it’s made somewhat easier by one of the best players in the nation in Jaron Blossomgame.

The redshirt senior averaged 18.7 points, 6.7 rebounds, and 1.3 blocks per game last season while earning First-team All-ACC honors and being named ACC’s Most Improved Player by the media and coaches. He put his name into the NBA Draft last season and attended the combine, but elected to return to Clemson where he’s worked hard to improve his stock.

“Something big for me this year is being a consistent shooter,” Blossomgame said. “Shooting the ball at high level from beyond the arc, mid-range, and obviously from the free-throw line. Free throws are something small, but they win a lot of games.”

He can play forward, but as his shooting has improved, Blossomgame has transitioned into more of a swingman and even a shooting guard at times where he’ll work with fellow redshirt senior Avry Holmes and junior Donte Grantham.

Holmes was the team’s third leading scorer (10 PPG) right behind Grantham (10.2 PPG). Holmes is the top guard in what will be a very young backcourt otherwise, while the 6’8″ Grantham pairs nicely with the 6’7″ Blossomgame to form a very strong frontline.

Things are a bit thin in the low-post however where the Tigers must replace Landry Nnoko. He averaged 8.1 points, 5.7 rebounds, and 2.3 blocks per game last season. Clemson will rely on Sidy Djitte as the most seasoned man in the paint. Last year he was sixth-best in scoring (5.3 PPG) and third-best in rebounding (5.2 RPG) despite playing just 15.2 minutes per game.

The Tigers will receive a boost in mid-December when Elijah Thomas becomes eligible. The transfer from Texas A&M didn’t play much during his eight games as a freshman, he’ll bring some much-needed size at 6’9″, 230 and will add depth where it’s needed most.

Two redshirt sophomore guards will also help shore up the depth chart. Shelton Mitchell recored 103 assists as a freshman for Vanderbilt and Marcquise Reed averaged a team-high 15.1 points per game for Robert Morris where he earned Northeast Conference Rookie of the Year honors.

Clemson has a strong non-conference slate that begins by hosting 20-game winners Georgia and Davidson, before two tournament games including one against either Xavier or Missouri. Later, they have back-to-back road games at Alabama and South Carolina before hosting 25-game winner UNC Wilmington.

The good news on that front is that the ACC schedule, while certainly daunting, won’t be quite as bad as some others. The Tigers have to play each of the ACC’s ranked squads only once each with two games apiece with Wake Forest and Georgia Tech.

It’s a manageable task with a nice, newly renovated home court advantage. Clemson is definitely among the teams to watch when it comes to making a move up the conference standings and landing back in the NCAA Tournament.

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