CLEMSON, S.C. (AP) Clemson coach Brad Brownell didn't think last year's team was as bad as its next-to-last preseason projection in the Atlantic Coast Conference. And he doesn't believe the bottom will drop out for his 23-win Tigers this season with the early departure of star K.J. McDaniels for the NBA.
''I don't know if you'll see a guy do what K.J. did. It's awfully hard to become all-ACC in this league,'' Brownell said. ''But I certainly think you'll see guys that develop.''
They'll need to develop in many areas to make up for McDaniels, the ACC's defensive player of the year now with the Philadelphia 76ers. He led the Tigers, who improved from 13-18 in 2012-13 to 23-13 last season, with 17 points and seven rebounds a game. He had 100 blocks to lead the ACC and a team-best 41 steals.
''He's going to be a big piece that is missing,'' said point guard Rod Hall. ''But we've got to do our best to pick that up.''
Hall's finish from last season is a good place to start. The senior averaged 9.7 points last season, but went for double figures in eight of Clemson's final 11 games. He believes that production gave him a jump start to this year when the Tigers will need another go-to player with games on the line.
''Coach kind of put the ball in my hands in tough situations and I made plays,'' Hall said. ''That gave me a lot of momentum.''
Clemson has an advantage it hadn't in Brownell's first four seasons - Clemson's top two scorers for each of the past four years did not return the following season - in that four of its top five scorers are back from a year ago.
Along with Hall, senior Demarcus Harrison and juniors Landry Nnoko and Jordan Roper return. Nnoko, at 6-foot-10, finished third in the ACC with 69 blocks a year ago and Brownell thinks he can take another step forward with more of an offensive presence.
''I feel great about it,'' Nnoko said. ''I feel like it's my time.''
Things to watch at Clemson this season:
STABILITY: A year ago, Clemson entered the off the program's first losing season in 10 years and some wondered if Brownell, formerly coach at UNC Wilmington and Wright State, had the chops to mix it up with the biggest players in college basketball's deepest conference. With McDaniels' help, the Tigers finished sixth in the ACC - ahead of traditional powers North Carolina State, Maryland and Wake Forest - and won 10 league games for just the fourth time in history. Brownell received a new six-year deal worth $10.6 million.
ROUGH START: Clemson could have the most difficult start in ACC history: league opener against North Carolina followed by road games at Louisville, Pittsburgh and Virginia before returning home to face Syracuse. Yikes!
TIME TO BLOSSOM: Sophomore Jaron Blossomgame was considered a star recruit from Alpharetta, Georgia, when he signed with Clemson three years ago. But a broken leg cost him one season and he was slow to get back in the swing of things as a redshirt freshman starter last year. Brownell said this is the first offseason the 6-7 Blossomgame has not been bothered by injury and that should show on the court.
GETTING DEFENSIVE: Brad Brownell's built the Tigers on defense and don't expect that to change this season. Clemson was second in the ACC behind Virginia and fifth nationally allowing just 58.4 points a game. The Tigers were among only 12 Division I teams out of 345 to give up fewer than 60 points a game last winter.
SAY GOODBYE: Clemson's last home game with North Carolina State on March 3rd will start a year's hiatus from its longtime arena Littlejohn Coliseum. Shortly after, the athletic department will start a renovation project expected to cost up to $80 million. The school will play the 2015-16 season in the Bon Secours Wellness Arena in downtown Greenville about 40 minutes away from campus.