Are you not entertained?

CLEMSON – No one appears to be enjoying this Clemson basketball season. Not by the look of the empty seats last night, not by the look of the worn countenance of Brad Brownell in the post-game press room. Brownell said after last night’s 68-61 loss to Boston College that this is the toughest season “without question” of his 10-year career.

Brownell has never had a losing season. Clemson hasn’t had one since 2003-04. But unless the Tigers can reel off four straight wins, which is highly unlikely, Clemson will have a losing season.

Even though Clemson has lost five in a row and eight of nine, I don’t think Brownell has lost this team; it competes, it’s just simply not a very good team.

“We have holes,” Brownell said.

And that Clemson has holes should surprise no one after losing Jerai Grant, Demontez Stitt, Andre Young, Tanner Smith and several transfers in back-to-back offseasons. The staff knew this year would be tough, and knows next year will be difficult, too. Still, Clemson has still been competitive in many games. The team hasn’t quit but is Clemson in in jeopardy of losing some of its ticket buyers?

Not only was the on-court showing lacking last night – aside from the senior night performances by seniors Devin Booker and Milton Jennings – but the crowd volume and energy level was among the worst I have witnessed in 4.5 seasons on the beat. Yes, the weather was terrible. Yes, Boston College is awful. But, still, it was senior night. (And Clemson president Jim Barker was still able to make despite a quintuple bypass surgery in January.)

I’d estimate there were 4,000 people in attendance and perhaps 2,000 folks stuck around for the senior-night ceremonies. Disheartening for Brownell and the seniors, I’m sure. I suspect there were less than 1,000 students in attendance.

Plenty of good seats still available at Littlejohn

I’ve had some readers/Twitter followers say it’s tough for them to watch Clemson’s slow-down style. That’s why they are not attending. I don’t know if that’s a vocal minority, or not.

Wrote reader Randy Capps “Bad team + boring style = low attendance”

Sub .500 teams often have attendance problems, that’s not surprising. College sports, and particularly basketball, has an attendance problem, in part due to trends beyond their control like HD TV. Winning solves a lot of ills. But I believe slow-down styles, in any sport, can exacerbate the issue

For example, while college football attendance is down slightly across the board (3 percent), some teams with up-tempo offenses, like Clemson, enjoyed attendance increases (2 percent last season).

Brad Brownell can coach. What he did with the 2010-11 team, a team that graduated Trevor Booker, KC Rivers and Terrence Oglesby, was remarkable. Brownell is a solid tactician, a good developer of players, and I think his handling of Milton Jennings was admirable.

My modest proposal is this: pick up the pace … at least at times.

I’m not sure all-the-time, full-court pressure is the answer. Purnell didn’t spend enough time on half-court offense and it haunted him in the NCAA Tourney. But as I wrote last week I think underdog programs like Clemson might be best served by incorporating some up-tempo elements.

Clemson has to find an edge somewhere in addition to player development

When Brownell went to full-court pressure under two minutes last night Clemson produced several steals, the crowed volume picked up. Could this small sample be a road map?

Brownell’s history suggests he does not subscribe to an up-tempo system. Many believe it’s not effective in the NCAA Tournament. And Brownell has made four NCAA appearances, at three different schools, using his system. And even if he wanted to increase tempo, he probably couldn’t with this team due to lacking numbers and no veteran guards.

I know Brownell would like to pressure more ball-handlers but feels limited in that capacity, too.

“With our limited numbers, we can’t change much how we do things,” Brownell said. “We don’t have a lot of depth, so we can’t press for 30 minutes. We just have to keep playing and it almost seems like there comes a point where we get in a little bit of a rut.”

But the numbers, and experience, at guard and small forward should be better next year. If Brownell elects to, he could elect to pick up the tempo. I imagine Jaron Blossomgame and K.J. McDaniels could create havoc in a full-court game.

And Clemson might have to go smaller and pick up the tempo because the only players on the roster or in the recruiting class to date capable of playing the 4 or 5 are Josh Smith, Landry Nnoko and Bernard Sullivan. Yeah, the Clemson frontcourt is in trouble. Clemson will have to play more small ball.

But picking up the tempo could be a fix and it might do something else: it might entertain.

6 thoughts on “Are you not entertained?

  1. It’s not the slow-down style of offense that turns me off. I really don’t notice that. It’s the lack of shooters. We can’t make shots from the floor, and we can’t make shots from the foul line. The worst conference teams we’ve played have better shooters than we do. We need better basketball players. Can Brownell, or anyone else for that matter, get them to come to Clemson?

    • If Clemson had a bunch of McDonald’s All-Americans it wouldn’t matter what style the Tigers used. That’s true.

      But it’s a lot easier to score in transition than against half-court defensive sets. The typical college team averages more than a point per possession in transition and far less than a point per possession in halfcourt sets.

      Hence, it’s good to have more transition opportunities.

  2. I’m a Brownell apologist, I’ll admit. As you said, the 2010-11 coaching job was a thing of beauty. The guy knows strategy, but he doesn’t have the talent to execute it. Take last night, I read that Brownell was outcoached by Donahue, that when BC switched to the zone to slow Booker, that Brownell had no counter to this strategy. There is no counter to a zone when no one on the team can shoot a decent percentage outside of 18 ft. Well, Roper can, but he needs help to get his shot. And it happens time after time, Filer and Hall can get to the rim, but they can’t finish. I would love to see the shooting percentage inside 10 ft for everyone besides Booker and KJ.

    That leads to the natural progression of “what next, then”. Either better talent is going to have to be acquired, or this is going to be the norm. I don’t see Clemson returning to the high-pressure days of Purnell with this team’s makeup. That would require a complete overhaul of the roster and a 5 year project.

    The one guy was right, slowdown basketball and terrible shooting are going to lead to small crowds. I hate watching Wisconsin play, whether they win or not. Virginia is a tough watch, too. Passing the ball around the perimeter with no real desire to score for 15 seconds is brutal.

    Something’s got to give. I don’t see the AD putting up with these crowds for more than one more season.

    • Lee,

      I do think folks must remember what Brownell did in 2010-11. Great, great coaching job. He’s clearly limited by the talent on the roster this season, as you noted.

      However, Jennings and Booker are the last links to OP, so next year this will be a team that has only Brownell’s signature on it and he’ll have had four recruiting classes.

      I think you’re right that the big question is what can of talent can he acquire. And recruiting is Clemson is tough. But as we saw with Bobo, Jerai and Stitt, Brownell can develop talent. I’ll be curious to see how these young guards improve next season. I think Brownell can win when he has veteran guards.

      All that said, I think a team can change alter its tempo to a degree. Brownell doesn’t have to become OP 2.0 but he could allow this team to play at a faster pace.

  3. BB is a great coach, that I do not doubt. The question is, what kind of recruiter is he while at Clemson. It’s one thing to recruit kids to Wright St, but a different beast entirely once you get to D1. At Clemson, he’s recruiting against the big boys in the ACC, while at his other stops he’s not. Your not getting a “name” to Wright St. Also, your not playing against the same talent at Wright St every night as you do here. This is where BB is sorely lacking imo. He can’t get the guys out there, that are needed to compete at this level, to come to Clemson. It’s a hard sell to start with, so you better be dang good at it if your going to be the coach here.
    To me, that’s one of biggest problems. He isn’t able to recruit on this level.

    • I agree it’s a tougher deal to recruit in the ACC, because the talent Duke and UNC recruit is much different than the top talent recruited in the MAC.

      It’s tough to recruit to Clemson, no doubt. But what was underrated about Oliver Purnell was his track record as a recruiter: KC Rivers was a great find, Trevor Booker was one of the best players in program history, Jerai Grant, Demontez Stitt were valuable players. Heck, TO was a good value.

      Brownell has found one underrated gem in KJ McDaniels and has to hope others like Adonis Filer develop.

      To defend Brownell’s record here, he’s had some terrible luck: the top recruits from his last two classes each have had medical issues. The staff didn’t know 4-star forward Bernard Sullivan had a breathing issue that essentially erased his 2011-12 season and Jaron Blossomgame broke his leg.

      Still, these guys will be healthy next year and Brownell will have another year to develop his players. Brownell deserves more time before we start drawing conclusions.

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