2011-12 College Basketball Season Preview: Clemson

Written by Paul Banks of the Washington Times, David Kay and Peter Christian of the The Sports Bank. Send Paul an e-mail here: paulb05 AT hotmail DOT com.
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Clemson Tigers (Last Year: 21-12, 9-7 in ACC)

2011-12 Projected Depth Chart:

F/C: Devin Booker (Jr)/Catalin Baciu (Sr)

PF: Milton Jennings (Jr)/Bernard Sullivan (Fr)

SF: Bryan Narcisse (Sr)/K.J. McDaniels (Fr)

SG: Tanner Smith (Sr)/Devin Coleman (Fr)

PG: Andre Young (Sr)/T.J. Sapp (Fr)/Rod Hall (Fr)

Gone: C-Jerai Grant, SG-Demontez Stitt, PG-Zavier Anderson, SG-Noel Johnson (transfer-Auburn), SG-Donte Hill (transfer-Old Dominion), PG-Cory Stanton (transfer-Lipscomb)

2011-12 Outlook:
In his first season as head coach, Brad Brownell led the Clemson Tigers to their fourth straight NCAA Tournament appearance. With their top two scorers from that team gone, the Tigers will have to assimilate their five freshman into the lineup right away if they want to head back to the dance.

There is experience in the starting frontcourt. Devin Booker and Milton Jennings showed improvement last season as they were given more playing time. Booker provides the physicality inside, while Jennings relies more on his athleticism and ability to stretch defenses with his jump shot. Jennings will move into the full-time starting spot, replacing Jerai Grant. Grant’s departure creates a void for someone who can protect the rim on the defensive end, since he single-handedly had more blocked shots than the rest of the Clemson team combined.

The rec-spec rocking Bryan Narcisse will likely see his role expand as well. Narcisse was an energy role player a year ago but figures to start at small forward. He brings hustle to the floor but not a whole lot of skill. Fellow seniors Andre Young and Tanner Smith should make up the backcourt and will have to increase their scoring to replace the offensive production Demontez Stitt provided last season. Both guys are capable ball-handlers and shooters, but Young specifically is known for his ability to light it up from deep.

Once you get past the starters, the only Tiger with Division One experience is 7-2 Catalin Baciu, who has only played 167 minutes in his three years at Clemson. That means Brownell must rely on a couple of his five incoming freshman to contribute right away.

At 6-7, post player Bernard Sullivan is the most highly decorated of the Clemson newcomers. The lefty has a nice inside/outside game and makes up for being undersized with his strength. K.J. Daniels is a combo forward who relies on his athleticism and length.

In the backcourt, Devin Coleman, T.J. Sapp, and Rod Hall will battle it out for playing time. Sapp should be the first guard off the bench due to his ability to score and play either guard position. Defense was an integral part of the Tigers’ success last season which could bode well for Coleman and Hall, who both have the reputation of being solid defenders.

Clemson is looking for their fifth straight trip to the NCAA Tournament; a feat that the program has never accomplished. For that to happen, Young and Smith have to embrace their roles as leaders, the Booker/Jennings frontcourt must take their game to the next level, while several of the freshman play major roles off the bench right away. That is a lot to ask of a team which is why, more than likely, Clemson ends up a middle of the pack ACC team.

Player to Watch: Milton Jennings, PF
A consensus top-30 recruit, there was plenty of hype surrounding Jennings when he arrived at Clemson. He struggled his freshman season as minutes were hard to find but made the most of his increased role last season, averaging about eight points and five rebounds in just 20 minutes a night. Moving into the starting lineup should provide Jennings with more opportunity this season to live up to the high expectations. Becoming a more consistent outside shooter will certainly help his cause.

Key Non-Conference Games:
  • 11/19 vs. Charleston
  • 11/29 at Iowa (ACC/Big Ten Challenge)
  • 12/4 vs. South Carolina
  • 12/10 at Arizona
  • 12/22 vs. UTEP (Diamond Head Classic)
  • 12/23 vs. Kansas State/Southern Illinois (Diamond Head Classic)
  • 12/25 vs. Xavier/Long Beach State/Auburn/Hawaii (Diamond Head Classic)

    Predicted ACC Finish: 7th

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