Football season is rounding the corner, and that means that basketball will soon be in full swing.
The Clemson Tigers got their first game out of the way in defensive fashion, as they took down Gardner-Webb 65-44 at home. Clemson has entered this season way under the radar but has several reasons to believe that they can cause some trouble in the ACC. This team won their first tournament game in years, last season, and has been looking steadily better ever since Brad Brownell took over two years ago.
Under Oliver Purnell, Clemson sometimes looked apathetic, relying on talent to win games. That doesn't fly in the ACC; everybody has talent. Brownell demands that his guys play hard and smart, and in the past two seasons the Tigers have picked up that banner and run with it.
Here are a few observations from the season opener and a few reasons why Clemson fans should be optimistic for 2011-2012.
Andre Young plays substantially larger than his 5-foot-9 frame would indicate. Last year, Young found his niche, steadily improving over the entire season.
With 19 points against Gardner-Webb, he led Clemson in scoring with an impressive array of jump shots over players bigger than him. His ball-handling skills are fantastic, and he moves well on defense.
Opposing teams underestimated him last year because of his size; but you can bet they know who he is now. In high school, Young was recruited by the likes of Auburn, Purdue, Maryland and Butler, and this will be his year to show us why.
Tanner Smith does more than just score. He had 14 rebounds and eight assists against Gardner-Webb, as he continued to be a consistent force on the floor.
As Clemson has gone through the massive overhaul of the past few seasons, Smith has remained constant and steady, showing the leadership and poise, which causes him to be the glue of this team.
Every year, teams with a preponderance of talent lose to squads with good leadership and teamwork, and that's what will happen this year. If you don't believe me, just ask Ali Farokhmanesh or Shaka Smart.
Every once in a while, Milton Jennings will do something jaw-dropping that supports the ballyhooed McDonald's All-American classification. For the most part, however, he's pretty dormant.
The Clemson fanbase is still waiting for Jennings to break out of whatever tentative shell he's in and show us why he had five stars attached to him coming out of high school.
If Brownell can figure out how to get Jennings to be more aggressive around the basket, both shooting the ball and rebounding, then he could have one of the best players in the country.
When Devin Booker signed at Clemson, the fans started licking their chops for Trevor 2.0. The rumors exploded that Devin was taller, faster and stronger than his older brother, Trevor (who was an NBA first-round pick), and that Devin would break the records that Trevor was concurrently setting.
That hasn't quite happened.
Though only a junior, Devin will be a phenomenal basketball player, but needs to make better decisions. Last year, Clemson could count on Devin to enter the game, tally three personal fouls and return to the bench, all in about a two-minute span.
As the year went on, Devin improved drastically; and the longer he was on the court the more we got to see him unfurl his talent. Against Gardner-Webb, he had some moments of true Trevorness, but his shot selection was still erratic as he threw up several optimistic, off-balance shots. But at least he was in the game to take them.
Based on his improvement though, I expect Devin to become a fearful presence in the ACC this year, as he continues to figure out his own game.
This freshman class is not as heralded as some Clemson classes of the bast. But coaches generally say they would rather have hard workers than tons of talent.
These freshmen look to be a healthy balance of both.
In the season opener, they showed a willingness to play hard and defend their court. Bernard Sullivan had some blocks that showed that he can really move, and T.J Sapp hit nearly every shot he took. The rest of the newcomers looked solid in their extensive playing time, which should prepare them for the upcoming ACC gauntlet.
Look for multiple freshmen to make an impact as the demand for playing time increases.
Brad Brownell is a defensive-minded coach. His teams may not score a ton of points, but they don't allow the other team to score a lot either.
Last year, only six opposing teams scored over 70 points, and five of those were in Clemson wins. That was year one.
In year two, Brownell should have his returning players clicking in his scheme, as Clemson's defense should be even better.
Look for some low-scoring games this year; and if Clemson can figure out how to match it with offensive production, they'll be a surprise team in the ACC.