Aamir Simms officially announcing his return to Clemson basketball last week signified a major shift in the program heading into 2020-21.
Expectations will be extremely high entering Brad Brownell’s 11th season as head coach. Defining what the means shouldn't be difficult.
At this point in his tenure, Brownell has taken the Tigers to two NCAA tournaments, including a Sweet 16 in 2018. However, the fans want more NCAA appearances. Brownell wants more. The administration wants more.
While there is a lot of good occurring in the program in terms of graduation rates, academics and culture, Clemson simply needs to be in the NCAA tournament more.
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When last season came to an abrupt end with the Tigers still in the ACC tournament, there was little chance of an NCAA berth despite some impressive wins.
That season didn’t start with nearly as high expectations of this season. However, the curse of multiple early injuries last year could turn out to be a blessing in the next campaign. Simms, the returning leading scorer, was the final piece to the puzzle that’s made up of a very veteran group.
On paper, time will tell if this is Brownell’s most talented team, but it is most certainly his deepest. The Tigers have seven returning players who saw action in at least 15 games last season, including four who started at least 19 contests.
Think about this depth.
Simms is the face of the program. Al-Amir Dawes showed last year that he has the potential to be one of the top guards in the ACC in the near future. John Newman II, who’s been solid on the defensive end, took on a much more aggressive scoring role and is believing in the kind of player he can be.
Clyde Trapp should look and feel healthier after coming back in the middle of the season from an ACL tear suffered last summer. Jonathan Baehre is back after suffering multiple knee injuries a year ago to provide size and rebounding in the paint.
Hunter Tyson took steps forward as a sophomore last season and is becoming a more consistent scorer at forward. Khavon Moore took time to settle in after his transfer, but it wouldn’t be unexpected to see him play more comfortably this season.
Guard Chase Hunter will see major playing time after starting four games but had his season derailed by injury. Transfer guard Nick Honor is now eligible. Alex Hemenway was a shot in the arm to the offense when he returned from injury with his outside shooting.
Freshman P.J. Hall is one of the most heralded in-state recruits Brownell has landed, and the Dorman High School product should contribute, if not start, immediately. Olivier-Maxence Prosper, the other freshman in this class, might help get buckets in transition if he’s physically ready to play this year.
Brownell has the ability to roll out a starting five and put in another five quality players. He’ll mix and match against different kinds of opponents. He’ll have flexibility when guys are banged up or underperforming.
It’s a numbers advantage that not many basketball programs will have. Usually, coaches like to rely primarily on seven or eight players. Clemson will exceed that.
But this question remains: What will it lead to?
First off, job security is something that shouldn’t be a conversation on June 7. The time will come for that. Their schedule isn’t even out and COVID-19 leaves some still unknowns for the sport. Players have changed the way they are developing in the offseason.
Once the season gets going, it’s not unfair to expect the Tigers to finish in the upper half of the ACC. Last year they were picked to finish in the bottom four but found a way to end ninth and win a game in the ACC tourney.
Depending on how the conference shapes up, and there appears to be some upward mobility opportunities for teams like Clemson, the Tigers will be in the mix for an NCAA berth.
Is just being mentioned on the bubble late next season enough to please the masses? Probably not. Get into the Big Dance and the depth and talent would meet expectations.
It’s impossible to factor injuries, tough schedule stretches, a potential midseason shutdown and other unknowns. However, if this roster stays intact, anything less than an NCAA tournament trip would feel like a wasted opportunity.
Clemson's potential starting five for 2020-21:
- Guard: Al-Amir Dawes
- Guard: Clyde Trapp
- Guard: John Newman III
- Forward: Aamir Simms
- Forward: P.J. Hall