Thursday, August 14, 2008

Clemson: 2008-2009 Team Preview

2007-2008 Record: 24-10, 10-6 ACC (3rd)

Key Losses: Cliff Hammonds (11.4 ppg, 4.1 apg), James Mays (10.7 ppg, 6.8 rpg), Sam Perry

Key Returnees: KC Rivers (14.7 ppg, 6.3 rpg), Trevor Booker (10.7 ppg, 7.3 rpg), Terrence Oglesby (10.5 ppg, 2.5 3's, 40% 3 PT)

Newcomers: Catalin Baciu, Brian Narcisse, Tanner Smith, Andre Young

Oliver Purnell has done a great job turning this Clemson program around, earning the team's first NCAA tournament bid since 1998 last season. The way Clemson has won the past two years is through an aggressive pressure defense, and so much of that keyed on the defensive ability of the three seniors, James Mays, Cliff Hammonds, and Sam Perry. Mays might have been the most important. He was a great athlete - 6'9", long arms, mobile - and thus was the point man on Clemson's trapping press, using his length and athleticism would wreak havoc on opposing back courts. Hammonds and Perry were also great defenders, especially on the ball, and usually were matched up with the opposing teams best players. That defense and toughness could be hard to replace and duplicate.

The Tigers do bring back a lot of talent, however. KC Rivers, a strong, 6'5" guard that led Clemson in scoring a year ago, decided to withdraw his name from the draft and return for his senior season. Sharpshooting back court mate Terrence Oglesby, who hit a ridiculous 2.5 3's per in only 18 mpg, will be a sophomore as will PG Demontez Stitt. Look for a big year out of Stitt. As a freshman, the 6'1" Stitt started the first 20 games of the year before under going minor knee surgery (he only missed two games) but still managed to average 8.8 ppg and 3.0 apg (playing alongside Hammonds and Rivers, no easy task). Two freshman, Tanner Smith and Andre Young, should also be able to contribute immediately.

Clemson's front court looks pretty good as well. Trevor Booker, a 6'7" bruiser, and Raymond Sykes, a 6'9" jumping bean, both return. After those two, the front line is talented but inexperienced. Junior David Potter looks like he may be able to slide in Perry's role, and sophomore Jerai Grant, a 6'8" athlete in the same mold as Mays, looks primed for a big year off the bench. Freshman Catalin Baciu, a 7'2" center that averaged 7.1 ppg and 7.1 rpg for the Romanian national team and was a consensus top 100 recruit out of Asheville, NC, could also provide some solid minutes if Clemson decides to slow the tempo (that's a big if though).

Outlook: With Miami and Wake Forest both improving, a third place finish in the ACC may be a bit of a stretch for this Clemson team, but don't be surprised if Clemson knocks off some people and makes some noise in the post season. If Sykes and Grant can provide the same kind of tenacious defense that Mays did last season, then the Tigers have a chance to be pretty good.

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