In part one of this forecast, we took an in-depth look at Clemson’s basketball program to try to figure out how the Tigers might fare next season. Weighing personnel losses and gains—as well as the development of players already on the roster—is a big part of the puzzle, but so is the landscape within which Clemson operates.
There’s no question the top-to-bottom strength of the Atlantic Coast Conference played a critical role in Clemson’s failure to make the NCAA Tournament in 2016-17. The league received lots of praise all season long for its depth, but in college basketball, such things are temporary due to the one-and-done rule and an increasingly active transfer market.
Clemson will lose three major contributors—Jaron Blossomgame, Sidy Djitte, and Avry Holmes—and a fourth fringe player to transfer in Ty Hudson, as well as assistant coach Mike Winiecki. The Tigers have signed a solid class that ranks in the middle of the pack in the ACC, but how does that turnover in personnel compare to Clemson’s peers?
There was only one coaching change in the league this offseason. NC State fired Mark Gottfried and replaced him with UNC Wilmington’s Kevin Keatts. The move is probably an upgrade, but the Wolfpack’s already thin roster will stay that way for another year. Dennis Smith Jr. is headed to the NBA, and wings Maverick Rowan and Terry Henderson are also gone. Keatts should recruit well over time, but the Wolfpack shouldn’t threaten the Tigers from below.
The same goes for the other two teams beneath Clemson in the standings. Pittsburgh barely has anyone left after graduation and transfers have removed all but four of Kevin Stallings’ players from last season, while Boston College has a mess on its hands. The Tigers won’t have to worry about them.
Clemson has some upward mobility if it can surpass Georgia Tech and Wake Forest, but neither of those programs will experience significant losses. Wake loses John Collins, which will be tough, but the Demon Deacons have talent waiting and recruits coming. Virginia Tech has to replace Zach LeDay and Seth Allen, but the return of several injured players and the arrival of a top recruiting class could actually mean an uptick for Buzz Williams.
Another squad that the Tigers could potentially leapfrog is Syracuse. Half of the Orange’s rotation from a season ago is out of eligibility, and Tyler Lydon is headed to the NBA Draft. Also, longtime Cuse assistant Mike Hopkins took the head coaching job at Washington, so the order that has long stabilized that program will be different to some degree. Virginia is also trying to replace a ton, as London Perrantes graduated and three other contributors left the program. Neither the Orange nor the Cavaliers have set the world on fire in recruiting, either.
The most stable programs at the top of the standings are Louisville, Notre Dame, and Miami. The Cardinals will lose Donovan Mitchell and Mangok Mathiang and might also see Deng Adel leave for the NBA, but Rick Pitino has done some of his best work in a while on the recruiting trail. The Fighting Irish won’t have Steve Vasturia or V.J. Beachem next season, but everyone else returns for Mike Brey. The Hurricanes got good news when possible first round pick Bruce Brown decided to come back for his sophomore season. Most of the rest of the roster will be back and should enjoy a boost from one of the nation’s top recruiting classes.
That leaves North Carolina, Duke, and Florida State. The Tar Heels likely won’t be defending their national championship after losing four key contributors and a potential one-and-doner in reserve post player Tony Bradley. In addition, this isn’t a blue chip recruiting class for Roy Williams. The Blue Devils will look totally different next season without Jayson Tatum, Harry Giles, and Luke Kennard, as well as veterans Amile Jefferson and Matt Jones. However, the pipeline of elite newcomers keeps bringing talent to Durham, so they should be fine. Florida State, on the other hand, loses virtually all of its skill without a clear replacement plan in place. The Seminoles should experience a slide.
If I were grouping schools by trends heading into next season, here’s how I would do it:
Trending Up—Louisville, Miami, Georgia Tech
Stable—Notre Dame, Virginia Tech, Wake Forest, Clemson, NC State, Boston College
Trending Down—North Carolina, Florida State, Virginia, Duke, Syracuse, Pittsburgh
This doesn’t differentiate based on the slope of the slide, but it seems like the ACC generally might trend slightly downward in 2017-18. That means there is upward mobility for Clemson into the middle of the league, even if the Tigers don’t perform as well on the court possession-by-possession. This is also an incomplete picture, as last-minute recruiting efforts, draft decisions, transfer destinations, and potential staff changes could make an impact one way or another.
Based on what’s happening everywhere else, Clemson might be in better shape than you think, even without a transcendent player like Blossomgame in the fold.