Clemson men’s basketball: What to expect this season

NCAA Basketball: South Carolina at ClemsonExperienced. Versatile. Toughness.

All words Clemson head coach Brad Brownell could use to describe his 2014-15 basketball team. The fifth-year head coach returns ever player except one off last year’s squad that advanced to the semifinals of the NIT in Madison Square Garden. However, the one loss is a big one.

The K.J. McDaniels era ended a year early as the high-flying Birmingham native bolted a year early for the NBA. The 2014 ACC Defensive Player of the Year did it all on both ends of the floor, leading Clemson to just its 13th20-win season in school history.

But despite McDaniels’ early departure, there are plenty of reasons for optimism in Tigertown with four starters. The Tigers are picked to finish 11th in the ACC by a vote of the league’s media. But this is a team that could and should challenge for an NCAA bid led by senior guards Rod Hall and Demarcus Harrison.

Sophomore forward Jaron Blossomgame and junior center Landry Nnoko also return and will likely be joined in the starting lineup by versatile 6-foot-8 forward Donte Grantham. Grantham was a Top-100 ranked recruit coming out of high school and spent last season at Hargrave Military Academy, where he used it like a redshirt season getting bigger and stronger before arriving at Clemson.

Grantham is incredibly skilled for his size and might be the best all-around player on the squad. The Martinsburg, W.Va. native is very good passer and can put the ball on the floor with solid ball-handling skills. He’ll need to develop a more consistent outside jumper and according to Brownell needs to get more physical inside.

Brownell will also have more options at his disposal in terms of versatility, which will be of the Tigers’ strengths. He could go with a bigger lineup with one of the keys being sophomore forward Jaron Blossomgame.

Blossomgame has been injured since the day he walked onto campus but was healthy this summer and fall for the first time. Expect to see a big improvement in his game, including his outside shot that he has worked tirelessly on. If he can become more of a “stretch-four,” it’ll open up the offensive end of floor for center Landry Nnoko to operate in the post and what should be an overall better shooting team.

The Tigers’ schedule will also provide the opportunity for several quality, non-conference wins to enhance their potential NCAA resume, including games against SEC squads Arkansas (Dec. 7) and Auburn (Dec. 14) in Littlejohn Coliseum. Robert Morris and Oakland visit LJC in late December, while a solid field awaits the Tigers in the Paradise Jam (Nov. 21-23).

Clemson Tigers
Last season: 23-13, 10-8 (6th)
Postseason: Lost in the semifinals of the NIT to SMU (65-59)

Expected starting lineup
G – Rod Hall (Sr., 6-1, 9.7 ppg)
G – Demarcus Harrison (Sr., 6-4, 7.8 ppg, 2.7 rpg)
F – Donte Grantham (Fr., 6-8)
F – Jaron Blossomgame (So., 6-7, 4.9 ppg, 5.0 rpg)
C – Landry Nnoko (Jr., 6-10, 6.5 ppg, 6.2 rpg)

Key player: Jaron Blossomgame
An improved three-point shot would make him a dangerous player with his size and skill around the basket.

Go-to guy on the last play: Rod Hall
The senior is one of the ACC’s best at dribble penetration and drawing contact in the lane. Hall is one of the biggest reasons why Clemson was able to get to the free throw line so often last year. The Tigers made almost as many free throws (505) as their opponents attempted (564).

Best defensive player: Landry Nnoko
At 6-foot-10, Nnoko blocked 27 shots last season and should increase that total this season.

Best all-around player: Donte Grantham
Like all freshmen playing major college basketball, there will be growing pains out of the gate. But there’s no mistaking Grantham’s skill level and what he’ll bring to the floor.

Mostly likely pro on the roster: Landry Nnoko or Donte Grantham

Most likely first-team All-ACC selection: Landry Nnoko

Toughest non-conference game: Arkansas (Sunday, December 7 at 5:00 pm)

Key ACC stretch: Clemson’s first-five ACC games of the season (January 3-17)

Clemson’s full 2014-15 schedule

Photos Courtesy of Clemson University

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