With Singler back, Duke is clearly the favorite in the conference and the team to beat, all alone in the top tier of the conference. Next, I’d put Florida State (and note, as of 4/21 when I’m writing this, Solomon Alabi has not yet declared for the NBA draft), Virginia Tech and North Carolina in the second tier, where each would need something very special to happen for them to challenge Duke at the top . The next group of five teams will all challenge for tournament bids, with those teams that finish at the top of the tier getting in, those in the middle sweating it out on Selection Sunday, and those at the bottom NIT bound. Of course, if a 96-team tournament happens, all of those teams get in. And, probably, a team or two from the bottom tier of teams (Virginia, Georgia Tech and Miami) gets in as well under that scenario, while in reasonable-land, where the NCAA tournament is still only 64 teams, all three teams in the bottom tier wrap up their seasons when they get eliminated from the ACC tournament, and two of those three team’s coaches start polishing their resumes.
All-ACC First Team G Malcolm Delaney, Sr, Virginia Tech G Nolan Smith, Sr, Duke F Kyle Singler, Sr, Duke F Harrison Barnes, Fr, North Carolina C Solomon Alabi, Jr, Florida State
All-ACC Second Team G Dorenzo Hudson, Sr, Virginia Tech G Kyrie Irving, Fr, Duke F Chris Singleton, Jr, Florida State F Tracy Smith, Sr, North Carolina State C Jordan Williams, So, Maryland
All-Freshman Team G Kyrie Irving, Duke G Ian Miller, Florida State F Harrison Barnes, North Carolina F James Johnson, Virginia C Carson Desrosiers, Wake Forest
Like other programs around the ACC, the big story in Clemson this offseason is new leadership. Head coach Oliver Purnell bolted for DePaul at the end of the season in a surprise move, leaving Clemson scrambling for a new coach, which they just filled with Brad Brownell, formerly of Wright State and before that UNC Wilmington. The coaching change has left some of theroster in question, with sophomore forward Devin Booker and Noel Johnson reportedly considering their options and incoming freshman wing Marcus Thornton (the 2010 Mr. Basketball from the state of Georgia) reportedly asking the school for a release from his letter of intent. The first order of business for Brownell will be to find out the status of those three players, all very talented pieces on this Tiger team, but perhaps pieces that won’t necessarily fit in well with the style of basketball that Brownell has historically run. Under Purnell, the Tigers were a high-tempo team, pressing defensively and getting out on the break on offense. On the other hand, Brownell’s team have historically controlled tempo, played tight man defense and gotten most of their offense in the half-court. Of course, even as good as the best of the Wright State or UNC Wilmington teams were, they never had a collection of athletes like Booker, Johnson, Thornton and the like, so while it is unlikely that the Tigers will continue to play the type of ball they did under Purnell, they may not turn into Wright State overnight.
Beyond the three question marks mentioned above, the Tigers aren’t exactly hurting for talent. Regardless of what happens to Booker, Johnson and Thornton, senior Demontez Stitt will start at the point and senior Jerai Grant will start up front somewhere. If all goes well, sophomore Milton Jennings will start alongside Grant, and then one of Booker, Johnson and Thornton will complete the Tiger front line while the other two provide depth, with junior Tanner Smith likely manning the two-guard spot. If Brownell can get all three of the question marks to return, the Tigers will have plenty of athletic depth, but even if only one of them remains, this isn’t a Clemson team that is going to immediately sink in the ACC standings. Junior Andre Young will likely back up Stitt, junior Brian Narcisse will provide some depth, and plenty of energy, up front, and sophomore Donte Hill may also get some time in the backcourt. Seven-foot-one junior center Catalin Baciu is in intriguing prospect up front, but he’ll need to add some strength to be a legitimate contributor in the ACC.
Clemson can still be in the conversation for one of the 65 tournament spots this season, but it is going to be interesting to see how Brownell imprints his style on a roster full of players who have gotten used to the Purnell way. Brownell may be an upgrade over Purnell in the long run, but the Tigers could suffer some short-term setbacks if their players chafe at the tightened reins.
**Update 4/15** As expected, Marcus Thornton has asked for and received a release from his letter of intent and has opened back up his recruitment. It is possible he will follow Oliver Purnell to DePaul, Memphis has jumped into the discussion, and schools like Kentucky, Florida and Georgia Tech are interested as well.
Devin Booker and Noel Johnson have not yet announced their decisions regarding possibly transferring out of the program.