2013-14 Clemson Basketball Season Review

The Highs

We’ll start with the high points and the first among them is beating South Carolina. Going way back to a November 17th game in Littlejohn Coliseum, K.J. McDaniels had one of the best games of his career as he shutdown his defensive assignment (Sindarius Thornwell), collected 7 blocks, 10 rebounds, and scored 21 points. It was a performance that demonstrated his improvement from the year before and thrust him into his role as the team’s star player. South Carolina finished the season 114 in KenPom with their only notable wins coming against Kentucky and Arkansas, but that doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy beating the poultry. They ended up being our best non-conference win (ouch). We’ve now beat them in consecutive seasons.

Clemson finished with 7 wins over teams in the KenPom top 70, but only one in the top 13, Duke. Right after scoring just 41 points against FSU in the ACC opener on a Thursday, Clemson had a quick turnaround with Duke coming to Littlejohn Coliseum on Saturday. They responded by out-competing the Blue Devils down the stretch. Clemson outscored Duke 24-9 in the “4th quarter” (final 10 mins), en route to a 13-point win in what was the most memorable and rewarding win of the season.

Other notable ACC wins included @FSU, NCSU, and Maryland. Of course, there were also 3 wins over designated rival, Georgia Tech. The 3 wins over the Yellow Jackets run Clemson’s streak up to 10 and give the season a somewhat unique stamp as “the year we dominated GT.” First was a 45-41 win in LJC. Then a road win in the beautiful new McCamish Pavillion, 63-55, which was accomplished by outscoring them by 14 in the second half. Finally, we won our first ACC tournament game since 2011 by beating them in OT.

Expectations were very low. We were projected to finish 14th in the new 15 team ACC. Of course, we made the NIT and managed 3 wins and a trip to Madison Square Garden. It didn’t end the way we wanted, and we’ll discuss that in the next section, but along the way a young team got valuable postseason experience. They beat a surprisingly good Georgia State team, knocked off Illinois with a Rod Hall lay-up in the closing seconds, and beat Belmont in a game that seemed to reignite the passion in our fan base. The Littlejohn Coliseum atmosphere in those final two NIT games demonstrates renewed fan interest in a program that finally turned the corner and gives hope for the coming years.

In all, Clemson finished 23-13 (10-8). It’s only the 10th time Clemson has cracked double-digit ACC wins, though the ACC schedule has grown over the years. More impressive is reaching 20 wins for just the 13th time. The last time we won 20 basketball games and 10 football games in the same season was the 1989-90 academic year, quite the drought. Overall, we won more than expected and outperformed expectations. Key to this was a handful of players growing and developing prior to and throughout the season.

K.J. McDaniels is obviously chief among the players we can thank for the season’s successes. He won ACC Defensive Player of the Year honors and was named to the First Team All-ACC. Landry Nnoko, who played little in the season prior, wasn’t much of an offensive option and was consistently in foul trouble for the first half of the year. Throughout the season, he expanded his game by knocking down hook shots from beyond point blank range. His fouls per 40 dropped from nearly 5 early in the year to 3.9 by season’s end. Only a sophomore, Nnoko shows the good job Associate Head Coach Mike Winiecki does with our big men and gives us a lot of optimism moving forward. Rod Hall also took huge strides in his junior season as his offensive rating sky rocketed from a weak 92.2 to a very good 106.9. This is driven by his improved AST rate, TO rate, FT% (59.7% to 75.7%), and willingness to penetrate to the basket and use his upper body strength to finish around the rim. Demarcus Harrison and Jordan Roper, although not tremendous throughout the entire season, showed great promise in stretches. Player development is a testament to knowledgeable coaches and hardworking players and we commend both.

The Lows

For all the highs, there were plenty of low points as well. The first one came when Devin Coleman surprised us by transferring out of the program (to Temple) after the Fall semester. We don’t blame him–he was getting little playing time despite being our most efficient offensive weapon–but we were upset to see him leave. It can be blamed on poor roster management as we started the season with far to many wing players, even after the Patrick Rooks injury (hip). This is a recruiting problem, and though it may in part be from Brownell playing catch-up with the missing class after OP left, Brownell received a fair amount of consternation.

Clemson fans were treated to something special this year, the emergence of star K.J. McDaniels. Unfortunately a star that shines so bright can often illuminate the faults of those around him. The one thing that plagued the Tigers more than anything this year was the inconsistency of its supporting cast. We saw just how dangerous this Tiger team can be in a January thrashing of the then 16th ranked Duke Blue Devils when McDaniels had his normal 24 points, but Landry Nnoko contributed 10 points and 13 rebounds, Jaron Blossomgame had 14 points including two big 3-pointers, and Rod Hall added 11 points. That was one of the few times all of the supporting characters were clicking at the same time. For the rest of the year it was a question of who would step up next. In the early part of the year and the postseason it was Jordan Roper. In the latter part of the year it was Damarcus Harrison and Rod Hall contributing, but only for one half at a time (e.g., Harrison scored 10 in the first half against SMU and didn’t score again). It is frustrating to look at just how good this Clemson team can be in one game, and not see that for a majority of the season. This off-season, Coach Brownell and staff will face the challenge of getting all the gears rotating in the same direction at the same time to turn this year’s team into a dangerous force next season.

Something that the Clemson brand of basketball frequently creates is close games (and our writers have the ulcers to prove it). One of the things that made this season so memorable was the team showing the poise and the strength to win so many of those showdowns. Of course, that wasn’t true every game and you can’t talk about the lows of the season without mentioning the head-scratcher that came at Auburn. Clemson was already carrying a weak non-conference schedule. After losing on the road in Arkansas, Clemson needed this one desperately, but the Auburn Tigers hit 4 late free throws to ice the game away and the we left with a 66-64 loss. That would end up being Auburn’s best win of the season as they finished 14-16 and fired their coach Tony Barbee at the end of the year. Our non-conference schedule was a major reason Clemson wasn’t even considered for the NCAA Tournament, and this loss was one of the nails in the proverbial coffin that sealed that fate.

Winning solves everything, and the losses at Auburn and Arkansas seemed to be long forgotten as Clemson won 4 of their first 5 ACC games, shocking the conference media by appearing in the top quarter of the standings. After projecting about 15 regular season wins, some of our writers were debating how plausible it was for this teams to win 20 games (we ended with 19 regular season wins). After games at Pittsburgh and at North Carolina, we were dealt an serious reality check.

Clemson went to Pittsburgh for an early battle for 4th place in the ACC and had their heads handed to them, losing by 33 points. If fans weren’t shaken by that, they followed that performance with their 57th consecutive loss in the Dean Smith Center at North Carolina, falling by 19 points. Clemson would rebound very well from these bad losses, but these 2 games shook the confidence of every Clemson fan and left us wondering what was to come next.

Maybe more painful than the blowouts were the heart breakers. In South Bend, Clemson used a 1-3-1 zone to come back from a substantial deficit and had a couple of chances to win. A missed FT from Hall in regulation, a wide open 3-pointer missed by McDaniels at the close of the first OT, and flubbed lay-up from Nnoko that turned into points on the other end in the second OT highlight the missed chances to earn a win over Notre Dame. The Pittsburgh game was all but won if not for a defensive breakdown and our inability to inbound the ball, and the Duke game ended with Rodney Hood and then Rod Hall driving to the basket to differing results in a plays that we sure would like to see again. The sense of pride that came from those games was outweighed by the sickening feeling that fans are all to familiar with, the thoughts of “it was so close.”

Finally, though we’re proud they won 3 NIT games, the way they lost to end the year was brutal. Clemson came out of the locker room at halftime with a 12 point lead. They pushed it to 41-28 with 19:02 remaining before watching it slowly evaporate as Clemson scored only 9 points in the first 10 minutes of the second half. Shooters that were hot and knocking down jumpers in the first half, went ice cold in the second. SMU’s defensive effort became suffocating and Clemson’s offense sputtered. On air that night was Bobby Knight, who was not shy. He said Clemson had only a handful of good offensive possessions in the entire second half, and he was right. The loss was illustrative of the strengths and weaknesses we had seen all season: a great defense put to the test by an offense that disappears for long stretches.

What We’ll Remember

First and foremost, folks will remember what a special season K.J. McDaniels had. He was electrifying and reason enough to get out to the coliseum or tune in on television. He led the team in points, rebounds, steals, blocks, and minutes played. He did it all while maintaining an efficient 111.4 offensive rating. He was even better defensively as he won the ACC Defensive Player of the Year award and led the ACC with 100 blocks (20 more than Daniel Miller in second place).

In 2012-13, many felt that the team was not fun to watch or easy to root for. That completely changed this season. A pre-season trip to Italy mended the team’s chemistry and helped create a group in which the sum was greater than its parts. Players appeared to buy into Brownell’s low-tempo system (finished as the 4th slowest) and “gut out” tough low scoring wins. As the year progressed and many of the close back-and-forth games broke our way, players gained confidence. As the players bought into the system, so did the fans as we came to enjoy watching the gritty team fight their way to victories despite their obvious limitations.

Clemson finished with one of the best defenses in the country allowing just 94.9 points per 100 possessions, 20th best in the country. They blocked 16.1% of opponent’s 2-point shots, 6th best in the nation and had the best 3P% defense, holding opponents to a paltry 28.5% from beyond the arc.

The offensive story wasn’t as bright as they scored 105.9 points per 100 possessions which is 140th in the nation–about average. They were a very bad 3-point shooting team finishing with a 31.0% mark which was 313th. The detailed KenPom stats for both offense and defense are below (with national ranking in parentheses). Overall, we finished 50th in the country in KenPom’s final team rankings–better than 25 NCAA tournament teams.

Offense Defense
Effective FG% 47.4 (260) 43.9 (5)
Turnover % 18.3 (169) 17.3 (240)
Rebounding % 33.8 (92) 32.4 (229)
FT Attempts / FG Attempts 36.2 (284) 28.6 (5)

We came into the season with very low expectations. The media projected us to finish above only Virginia Tech. Entering the season, we (Ryan Kantor and Mark Gordon) projected 6-12 ACC records. Watching this team gel and make each other better, seeing K.J. and Rod slowly take the mantle of team leadership, and enjoying 10 ACC regular season wins made Clemson basketball fun again. Although we didn’t reach our overarching program goal of reaching the NCAA tournament, we did hit the goal we set in our season preview:

An NIT berth, which would require at least a 17-14 record, should be viewed as a major success and step forward for this very young Tiger team.

In doing so, we were the surprise team in the ACC, finishing 6th in the conference, 8 spots above our projected ranking.

Despite blowing a 13-point lead to Southern Methodist to conclude the season, the 2013-14 Clemson basketball team will be remembered as an offensively challenged group that bought into their coaches system, grinded their way to ugly wins, and vastly over-achieved the #14 rank the ACC media handed them at the start of the year.

With 4-star Donte Grantham and NC Player of the Year Gabe DeVoe joining the team next season, it appears the program has finally turned the corner under Brownell. Players have bought into the system and play some of the best defense in the country. The NIT run to close the year provided crucial postseason experience for a young team and showcased the gritty basketball this team plays. Moreover, it ignited fan interest and has everyone excited about the program.

Coach Brownell’s Season Wrap-Up Press Conference

Brad Brownell gives a season wrap-up press conference at the end of each season. He is refreshingly candid so they’re always worth watching. Last year he called out some negative situations, which made it especially entertaining. You can watch this year’s presser below.

I’ll just touch on a couple things he brought up. Firstly, he immediately credited the trip to Italy for the team cohesion. We mentioned this as being a valuable opportunity for our team, and for him to continue to reference it really highlights that. He also called the team tough-minded. In last year’s season wrap-up presser he said he could see the lack of confidence/toughness in their eyes down the stretch of close games. Coming in the season and again at the mid-way point we expressed concerns about our rebounding. Brownell shared those concerns, and said they benefited from having rebounding wing player in K.J. McDaniels. One particularly interesting item he touched on was the 3-point defense. We’ve discussed it a couple times and credited it partially to luck (and I’ll stick by that), but he explained that it was a serious problem that they worked on and improved immensely. As such, it great to see our coach identify a problem and fix it between seasons.

Here he gets into the lack of shooting on the team. Saying we’ve got to become a better shooting team. “At the end of the day, we can’t continue to be one of the worst in the league in 3-point shooting and expect to finish in the top 6 or 7 in the league. It’s just very difficult to do that.” If we do in fact take strides there, the offense could open up as teams could no longer pack and force missed outside shots. He spoke a bit about the ACC media picking us to finish 14th. It was interesting to hear how his focus was making sure they didn’t believe that rather than using it as a “battle cry.” That seems like a matter of knowing his team and managing a locker room. He certainly deserves some credit for that.

Speaking about the health of Jaron Blossomgame and Patrick Rooks, he said they’re “both fine” and “will be ready shortly.” These are two that I’d love to see bring some shooting next season. If Blossomgame can improve his .427 eFG% and his .200 3P%, he can be a major impact player (remember that Duke game?). He is not a natural post player, but understands rebounding is something he needs to do to help the team and he improved in that area throughout the season. One of the most interesting questions of the presser–and this is something Mark Gordon touched on in the video atop this post–is how the incoming players will fit into the team regarding playing time. Brownell called the the bench, competition, and other good players “great motivators to keep you hungry and keep you working at the level you need to work, so I think that can be good.” He continued, “but at the same time, you have to have a good locker room. You got to have guys that care about each other, that are selfless, that understand and have a sense of team.” Regarding the final question about the possibility of a transfer, we have now learned that Adonis Filer will be transferring from the program. A transfer is not a surprise, but we did not guess it would be Filer.

In conclusion, we’re proud of the improvements this program is making. We’re now hearing rumors about a Brownell contract extension and will bring you details as they emerge. We’ll be looking forward to continued improvement next season.

This post was team written by Ryan Kantor and Mark Gordon.

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2 thoughts on “2013-14 Clemson Basketball Season Review

  1. One thing you failed to mention is the improvement in free throw shooting. Going from one of the worst in the league to the best is quite an accomplishment, something no other coach at Clemson has been able to do.

  2. It wasn’t completely out of nowhere. Brownell has been fixing this problem for a while and it’s finally become a strength so we’re really noticing, but it’s not as if we went from worst to first in one season. That’s why I failed to mention it, but to your point, the improvement has been impressive and they all deserve recognition for that.

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