Clemson looking to end NCAA Tournament drought this season
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) New faces, new building. Same old quest for the Clemson Tigers.
The men's basketball team has not made the NCAA Tournament since coach Brad Brownell's first year in 2011, which ended a program-record run of four straight bids to the Big Dance. Since then, it's been close but no cigar for the Tigers despite winning 10 games in the rugged Atlantic Coast Conference and had a first-team all-ACC performer in both 2014 and 2016.
Brownell understands all too well it's time for the Tigers to hear their names called on selection Sunday.
''We've got to get over the hump and get to the NCAAs. That what we're pointing to,'' he said.
The Tigers, 17-14 last season, may have enough talent to make that happen, starting with all-ACC forward Jaron Blossomgame .
Blossomgame, a graduate student who led Clemson with 18.7 points and 6.7 rebounds last year, considered jumping to the NBA draft after his breakout season last winter. Every so often, Blossomgame thinks about how his life would've changed if he had gone pro like friend and former teammate K.J. McDaniels did after the 2014 season.
''I wouldn't call them regrets,'' Blossomgame said. ''Just knowing the differences. But I know I made the right decision to come back.''
Particularly if Clemson's new players live up to their promise. The Tigers will have three Division I transfers in the rotation this season, all who practiced with the team last year as they waited out their time to play. Shelton Mitchell is a 6-3 guard from Vanderbilt while Marcquise Reed was the Northeast Conference freshman of the year after averaging 15 points in his lone year at Robert Morris.
Elijah Thomas, a 6-9 forward who played four games at Texas A&M last season, will bolster Clemson's front court when he's eligible in December.
Some other things to watch for in Clemson's 2016-17 season:
NEW BUILDING: The Tigers will once more play in Littlejohn Coliseum, which underwent a $63.5 million renovation that had the team playing last season about 30 minutes away in Greenville. This redo features expanded weight rooms, locker rooms, meeting rooms and training rooms. It will also have fans closer to the court with the hopes an improved atmosphere to intimidate opponents.
FAST STARTS: Clemson must look to stop those draining, early season losses that ruin whatever run it makes in the ACC. Two years ago, the Tigers lost November games to Winthrop and Gardner-Webb. Last year, they were beaten in nonconference games by Minnesota, Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina. ''We won 10 ACC games and didn't get in the NCAAs,'' Blossomgame said. ''That shouldn't happen, but we have to do better before the league starts.''
SMALLISH TIGERS: With the departure of 6-10 center Landry Nnoko, Clemson won't have much experienced depth on the front line. After 6-10 Sidy Djitte, things slide to little used 7-footer Legend Robertin. Brownell is hoping Texas A&M transfer Ellijah Thomas can have an impact once he returns in December.
TIME TO SCORE: Brownell has relied on defense during much of time at Clemson, partly because he didn't have a lot of options in consistent scorers. Brownell believes newcomers Mitchell, Reed and Thomas can join with Blossomgame and double-digit returning scorers Donte Grantham and Avry Holmes to form a more potent attack.
TIME TO SHINE: Clemson has been patient with Brownell throughout a steady building process. Now, with four years left on his contract and a shiny, expanded building to recruit, Brownell knows he must bring the program more moments like last season where it defeated three ranked opponents - Louisville, Duke and Miami - for the first time in school history. ''The players are feeling like there's a high level of commitment to us really being good and that's helped motivate them,'' assistant coach Dick Bender said.
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