Last season Clemson basketball reached the Sweet Sixteen for the first time since 1996-97 and just the fourth time in school history.
After a historic season, expectations are the highest they have been in a long time with the Tigers ranked 22ndin the AP preseason poll and picked to finish sixth in the ACC by the media. This year they have an opportunity to show that the Sweet Sixteen was not an anomaly and that Clemson can be a consistent program in the ACC.
The Tigers return nine lettermen off of the 2017-18 squad and only lose starters in Gabe DeVoe (14.2 ppg) and Donte Grantham (14.2 ppg) who missed the majority of the year due to injury, with four starters back (Shelton Mitchell, Marcquise Reed, Aamir Simms and Elijah Thomas) and contributors in David Skara, Malik William and Clyde Trapp, they have a chance to build on last year’s laurels.
However, while Clemson head coach Brad Brownell is proud of last season’s accomplishments he knows this season is new and has presented its own unique challenges especially in terms of injuries.
“Every team is different, we aren’t anywhere near where I thought we would be now because of injuries,” Brownell said. “It’s been a little frustrating this fall we haven’t had enough quality guys in practice to compete against each other and get better.”
Elijah Thomas a staple in the Tigers game plan a season ago, averaging 10.7 ppg and 8.1 rebounds per game, is questionable for tomorrow’s game against The Citadel as he battles a bone bruise and sprained ankle. Malik William is also battling injury and was set to step up as a relief player at forward.
The lack of depth and health issues showed in the two exhibition games when Clemson defeated Barton College 89-80 and UNC-Wilmington 78-67 in rather unimpressive showings.
“I know we have a lot of good players back but what we did last year is over and we are a new team. If you’ve watched us play two game we don’t look like the No. 22 team in the country, we aren’t playing that good,” Brownell said. “Those rankings are superficial and don’t really matter and obviously they didn’t matter last year either.”
Clemson opens up the regular season on Tuesday night when it hosts The Citadel in Littlejohn Coliseum, with a win Brownell will have secured his 150thvictory as the coach of the Tigers, becoming just the third coach to do so. He is proud of his time at Clemson and the current status of the program.
“I’m just happy I’ve been at Clemson as long I have and I hope to be here a long time. It’s been a journey and a process, that’s the way it is with a lot of programs at this level,” Brownell said. “A lot of us are fighting the fight for a good while to get over the hump and be a consistently good program.”
“I am proud of that I’m starting my ninth season here and we’ve had good team, now the program is in a good place with facilities and graduating players for all of the things you want as a coach,” he said.
The Bulldogs played one exhibition game against North Greenville, winning 141-88. Expect them to go up tempo and take a lot of shots when they come to town this week.
The Tigers open with three home games in early November before traveling to the Caribbean for the Cayman Islands Classic.
Tip-off is set for 7 p.m. on Tuesday for Clemson’s matchup with The Citadel.