Saturday, July 7, 2012

Basketball in Review

Coming into the 2011-2012 men's basketball season, something had to give.  Programs typically take the biggest leaps forward during year two as returning players have been through a complete cycle, know what to expect, and know how to prepare.

But this Clemson team was a little different than most.  They lost 3rd Team All-ACC player, point man, and court leader in Demontez Stitt and All-ACC Defensive player Jerai Grant.  Additionally, only had six players with varsity experience were returning.

So which would it be - historical growth or the fresh faces?

Brownell knew that until the six freshman figured out the system and their role in it, there would be some bumps and bruises.  Their defense and intensity would keep them in games, but the lack of a consistent scoring threat would cause some issues.

And it did.  The inexperience and lack of scoring cost them as they were unable to put two halves together.  Back-to-back home losses to the College of Charleston and Coastal Carolina showed just that.  Against the College of Charleston, Clemson got down early by double digits, but stormed back to have a chance to tie.  It didn't fall and they lost by three.  Against Coastal, it was the opposite.  Clemson jumped out to the big lead, but Coastal flipped the tables, made a comeback, and stole the game at the buzzer.

The ACC-B1G Challenge would give us our first glimpse of what this was capable of as they dominated Iowa on the road.  But unfortunately, the inconsistency returned and they lost at home to a terrible USC team.

Another loss to a decent Arizona team on the road was not a surprise, but their effort in Hawaii was.  They lost their opener to a mediocre UTEP team, rallied to beat Southern Illinois in overtime, then lost to the host school Hawaii in the 5th place game.

The result - a sixth place finish in a less than stellar field and the suspension of a key player.

Jennings was suspended for the finale due to his actions on the court.  And as we found out later, there were academic issues as well.

But all was not lost.  Clemson again showed what it was capable of doing in dismantling FSU in the ACC opener, but inconsistency reared her ugly head as the Tigers lost three straight heartbreakers in ACC play.

It was now official - inconsistency and heartbreak were to be the themes of the season.

Following back-to-back wins over bottom feeders Georgia Tech & Wake, the Tigers again lost three straight ACC games, two of which were on the road, by a total of eight points. 

What might have been became the discussion of this team.  An extra basket here or defensive stop there, or maybe a little less of Karl Hess, and this team would be near 0.500 and in solid position for postseason play.

But the breaks didn't fall their way, and as such, being 3-6 in the ACC, combined with the early season struggles, the prospects of heading to the NIT, nevertheless the NCAA Tournament for a record fifth straight year, were essentially erased.

But give the players and Brownell credit.  They didn't give up and were able to win five out of the next six games, including wins over NCAA teams Virginia & NC State to assure themselves of at least a 0.500 record in the ACC for the fifth straight year, which extends their best-ever run.

The only loss in that stretch? The extension of "The Streak" in Chapel Hell.

Clemson ended up losing the regular season finale at Florida State and the ACC Tournament opener to Virginia Tech to finish the season 16-15 (8-8).

Looking back, the Tigers have a lot to be proud of.  They were one break away from finishing 4th in the ACC and potentially extending their season into the postseason.  In addition, the four seniors showed tremendous leadership and the six freshman began to find their place.

This team played hard, never gave up, and grew as a team.  By the end of the season, they were playing solid basketball.  At that is what this team will be remembered for: senior leadership, impact freshman, and never giving up.

And because of that, this may be my favorite senior class since Barnes' Slab Five.

Thank you Andre Young, Bryan Narcisse, Catalin Baciu, and Tanner Smith.

Photo by Orange & White

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