After last season ended abruptly just before tip-off in their second game of the ACC Tournament, Clemson returns to the hardwood as it faces off with Mississippi State in the Space Coast Challenge on Wednesday in Melbourne, Fla.
The Tigers return key pieces from last year’s team and added a top-20 recruiting class. Head coach Brad Brownell previewed the matchup with the Bulldogs on a media teleconference Monday.
The Clemson coach feels confident about his personnel and is ready to get back to action and play against somebody other than themselves.
“We have had thirty plus practices, which is a lot before you play somebody else,” Brownell said. “The best you can do is play against yourself and that’s good but after a while it’s more challenging to keep you guys going. I know everybody is excited about playing Mississippi State and everybody at the tournament.”
Clemson, who is coming off a 16-15 season, dealt with setbacks as a result of COVID-19 cases in the summer. But it did not miss any practice time as a result of the illness. Brownell worries his team is vulnerable going into the season and focused on taking advantage of whatever opportunities they have.
“I don’t think you can look very far ahead, and we try not to do that generally. You really need to be thankful for the opportunities you get,” he said. “We have been fortunate with very few cases that were early enough to not affect our practice time. That makes me nervous because we are vulnerable in the season.”
Last year the Tigers dealt with copious injuries in a roller-coaster season. Clemson had as few as eight scholarship players active for a stint as players combined to miss as many as 75 games due to injury.
Senior Clyde Trapp missed time last season with the aftereffects of an ACL tear but has continued to make progress in the offseason and bounced back near 100-percent.
Sophomore Chase Hunter played in only nine games last year before he fractured his foot. Brownell said Hunter was cleared to practice last week, but is still rusty after he broke a finger this past summer.
The Tigers return senior Aamir Simms, who earned preseason first-team All-ACC honors earlier this month. The forward averaged 13.0 points per game in 2019-’20 and shot 40.0-percent from beyond the arch.
Mississippi State finished the 2019-’20 campaign with 20 wins for the third straight season. The Bulldogs lost their top four scorers including Robert Woodard II and Reggie Perry who were selected in the NBA draft last week.
Brownell feels the Tigers face a tough test against the lengthy Bulldogs and highlighted by the play of 6-foot-11 senior Abdul Ado on the inside.
“Coach H does an unbelievable job over there and always has big, strong, talented teams,” Brownell said. “They defend the basket really well and Ado inside is a really experienced and outstanding defensive player.”
Clemson tips off of the season on Wednesday at 8 p.m., on the CBS Sports Network.