- Ky McKeon
Key Returners: Shelton Mitchell, Marcquise Reed, Elijah Thomas
Key Losses: Gabe DeVoe, Donte Grantham, David Skara
Key Newcomers: Javan White (Oral Roberts), John Newman III, Trey Jemison, Hunter Tyson
Outlook: Clemson enters 2018-19 coming off its best season of the Brad Brownell era. After a six-year Tourney drought sparked hot-seat talk, Brownell silenced the haters when he led his Tigers to a 25-10 (11-7) mark and the school’s first Sweet Sixteen appearance since 1997. This run was made even more impressive by the fact that Clemson was without Donte Grantham (their best player) for the second half of the season. Despite Grantham's and fellow senior Gabe DeVoe’s graduation, Clemson still has plenty of firepower to make another run at the Sweet Sixteen.
DeVoe’s departure is a big deal. While never the flashiest player on the court, DeVoe was easily one of the most valuable players on the roster. Clemson outscored opponents by 11 more points per 100 possessions when DeVoe played versus when he sat – a significant margin. His absence will be the toughest challenge for Clemson to fill given the Tigers were not a deep team in 2017-18, especially at the guard/wing spot. Incoming freshman John Newman III figures to pick up the mantle; he’s a 6’5” 4-star shooting guard out of Greensboro. Newman is an explosive lefty scorer with a developing jumper who brings a ton of energy to the court. Given the roster makeup, Newman should see some early season starting looks in his first year.
As obvious from the spot in our rankings, despite G.D. and D.G.’s departures, Clemson still projects as a top 25 squad. That’s because the Tigers’ returning senior trio of Shelton Mitchell, Marcquise Reed, and Elijah Thomas is one of the best returning cores in the entire country. Reed and Mitchell combine to form a menacing dual point guard machine. Akin to a Yin and Yang relationship, the pair complements each other’s games perfectly: Reed, a 6’3” righty, is the more prevalent scorer of the two while Mitchell, a 6’3” lefty, holds the slight edge in ball handling. Even their stats were similar last season: Reed turned in a shooting slash of .487/.354/.845 while Mitchell notched a slash of .424/.368/.857:
Brownell’s offense revolves around Reed and Mitchell’s playmaking; it’s an offense heavily reliant on the pick-n-roll and drive-and-kick action. And while Clemson doesn’t play at a breakneck pace, the Tigers are one of the best transition scoring teams in the country thanks to the ball skills of Reed and Mitchell.
Thomas serves as the rock in the middle on both sides of the basketball. On offense, Thomas converted 67.1% of his tries near the rim last season and ranked 8th in the ACC in offensive rebounding rate. On defense, Thomas anchors what was the 7th-best defense in the land in 2017-18 with his ferocious shot-blocking ability and glass cleaning chops. Clemson ranked 8th in the country in 2P% defense (16th in FG% at the rim) and Thomas allowed only 0.714ppp on post-ups (a very good mark, per Synergy).
This year, Thomas will have a reliable back-up option at the 5-spot in Oral Roberts’ Javan White. Like Thomas, White is a load on the glass on both ends of the floor, earning the title of best rebounder in the Summit last season (by rate) while ranking 29th in the country in offensive rebounding rate. On offense, White is a paint bound scorer that relies on a lefty baby hook and offensive put-backs for production. He’ll join a frontcourt rotation that includes rising sophomore Aamir Simms.
Aside from Newman, two more freshmen are set to join the fold this season for Clemson: big man Trey Jemison and wing Hunter Tyson. Jemison is more of a plodding-type of forward that likely needs a year or two to fully develop. Tyson will serve primarily as a spot-up shooter. DeVoe and Grantham both shot around 40% from three last season, so Tyson could see spot minutes in order to get more shooting on the floor. Neither Jemison nor Tyson will have near the impact Newman figures to have this season.
Clemson was a surprise team last season coming off a year in which they lost All-Conference performer Jaron Blossomgame. Offensively, the Tigers took a step back in 2017-18 compared to Blossomgame’s year, but their defensive rating skyrocketed going from 86th in the country in 2016-17 to 7th last season (per KenPom). Clemson should be just as fierce on defense this year, especially with the high level of energy Newman brings to the floor. Offensively, expect the Tigers to be a middling-ACC squad with game-breaking potential in the backcourt.