Clemson has little work left to do on its 2014 recruiting class.
CLEMSON – With just over two weeks left in the 2014 recruiting cycle, Clemson is nearly finished with the Class of 2014. The Tigers have 19 verbal commitments: the class is ranked 14th nationally by 247Sports and 13th nationally by Rivals.com.
Given Clemson’s current scholarship situation – the Tigers graduated just 11 scholarship seniors – that number is unlikely to grow much by Feb. 5, the first day prospects can sign national letters of intent.
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said last week that the numbers are very tight, and that even with the Tigers losing three juniors (receivers Sammy Watkins and Martavis Bryant and cornerback Bashaud Breeland) to the NFL, it wouldn’t affect scholarship numbers much. Some attrition had already been built in, and Swinney wanted to keep former walk-ons like long snapper Michael Sobeski and tailback C.J. Davidson on scholarship.
After landing four-star receiver Trevion Thompson of Durham, N.C., last weekend, the Tigers currently have only two official visits from non-committed prospects scheduled for January.
Three-star defensive tackle/defensive end Cory Thomas of McCalla, Ala visited recently. Thompson is considering the Tigers, N.C. State, Ohio State, North Carolina and West Virginia. Thomas is a Tennessee commitment, but he is also considering the Tigers and Mississippi State.
Clemson is also in the running for four-star defensive end Andrew Williams of McDonough, Ga. Williams will visit Jan. 31. He is also considering Auburn and Ole Miss.
This month has been as much about the Class of 2015 as it has been 2014: the Tigers already have six verbal commitments for 2015. They include four-star linebacker Tanner Muse of Belmont, N.C., four-star safety Van Smith of Charlotte and three-star receiver Shadell Bell of Decatur, Ga.
In fact, the Tigers’ best commitments of the new year might have come from defensive end Vic Beasley (who spurned a second-round NFL draft grade for his senior season) and offensive coordinator Chad Morris, who finished as the runner-up for Vanderbilt’s head coaching position.
Brownell Turning Beat Around
When the 2013-14 season began, there was reason to believe that Brad Brownell was on the hot seat. If not, he was at least approaching it.
In 2010-11, Brownell led his first Clemson team to a 22-12 record and the program’s first NCAA win with a roster constructed by Oliver Purnell. But Purnell left behind a veteran-laden roster and a difficult roster situation exacerbated by multiple transfers of Purnell recruits, and Clemson slipped.
The Tigers fell to a 16-15 record in 2011-12 and 13-18 last winter. That bunch was particularly miserable, losing 10 of its final 11 games. In fact, Clemson didn’t break 70 points after Jan. 27, with its only wins a pair of victories over Georgia Tech.
With no seniors on the roster and an improved ACC with the additions of Syracuse, Pitt and Notre Dame, there were real reasons to think this season wouldn’t be much better. In addition, the athletic director who hired Brownell – Terry Don Phillips – retired, replaced by Georgia Tech’s Dan Radakovich. Radakovich showed quickly that he wasn’t afraid of change, canning women’s hoops coach Itoro Coleman following three unsuccessful seasons.
A funny thing happened on Brownell’s way to the hot seat, however: Clemson improved.
Following an 61-53 win over Wake Forest, the Tigers (13-4, 4-1 ACC) have matched their win total from all of last season and are one win away from matching their ACC win total from all of last year, too. It is the program’s best ACC start since beginning league play 5-0 in 1996-97.
They’re doing it with absolutely stifling defense: Clemson entered the Wake game allowing opponents just 53.6 points per game, tops nationally in scoring defense.
Plus, some of the players who looked overmatched last season have matured.
Sophomore guard Jordan Roper averaged 7.9 points per game a year ago; he’s averaging 8.6 this season. Fellow sophomore Adonis Filer has developed into a consistent scorer off the bench.
And this doesn’t even take into account junior swingman K.J. McDaniels, who has developed into one of the most electric players in the ACC and nationally, a regular on SportsCenter’s top-10 plays.
A year ago, McDaniels averaged 10.9 points and five rebounds per game. This year, he has emerged as Clemson’s unquestioned leader, averaging 16.7 points, 7.1 rebounds, 2.8 blocks and 1.1 steals per game.
With the improvement of sophomore center Landry Nnoko (5.7 points, 6.5 rebounds), departed seniors Devin Booker and Milton Jennings have scarcely been missed.
One could argue that their departures have been addition by subtraction, particularly that of Jennings, a constant malcontent who never lived up to his status as a McDonald’s All-American.
Clemson’s deep guard group (even after the Christmas transfer of sophomore Devin Coleman to Temple) has provided adequate perimeter play, and the Tigers’ defense keeps them in every game.
This crew seems to enjoy playing together, and they also seem motivated. Brownell issued his own form of a challenge this fall by signing guard Gabe DeVoe and forward Donte Grantham to a roster that wasn’t scheduled to lose anyone next year.
Brownell never said as much, but the point was implied: two of you aren’t going to be here next year. Who’s out the door? Coleman got the message after his minutes fluctuated during non-conference play, and his departure has allowed Roper to thrive alongside Filer and junior Damarcus Harrison at shooting guard.
Someone still has to leave to get Clemson down to 13 scholarship players for next season, but the current success has pushed that storyline to the backburner.
For now, a team that flailed down the stretch last season has a potential NCAA trip in its sights. For serious contention, the Tigers must survive a brutal upcoming stretch that features five of the next six on the road: at Pitt, at North Carolina (0-for-56 streak), at Florida State, home vs. Georgia Tech, at Syracuse, at Notre Dame. Of that group, only Notre Dame and Georgia Tech feature RPIs below 58.
Survive that stretch, and an interesting story gets really compelling.
Regardless, it appears Brownell’s potential “hot seat” is now room temperature.