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2013-14 Preview: Clemson Tigers

K.J. McDaniels is Clemson's top returning scorer (10.9 points per game) and defender. Grant Halverson/Getty Images

Clemson Tigers

2012-13: 13-18 (5-13 ACC)
In-conference offense: 0.93 points per possession (12th)
In-conference defense: 1.01 points allowed per possession (7th)

During an otherwise disappointing campaign (which was, in fact, Clemson's worst season since 2003-04), the Tigers could cling to at least one mark of distinction. Brad Brownell's men defended the rim with tenacity.

Projected starting lineup

ACC opponents shot just 45 percent inside the arc against a Clemson interior D that put the length of Devin Booker (6-foot-8), Milton Jennings (6-foot-9) and K.J. McDaniels (6-foot-6) to good use. Indeed, Brownell's team arrived at the beginning of February with a quite respectable 4-4 mark in conference play. That record was largely due to the benevolence of the schedule-maker, however, as the four victories all came at home against teams that would not make the NCAA tournament. Once the competition became more robust, things quickly went from .500 to worse, and the Tigers closed the season by losing 10 of their last 11 games.

So much for the good news. The bad news is this was the worst offense in the ACC in 2012-13, a hard-won distinction that Clemson (scoring 0.930 points per possession in conference play) had to wrest from the clutches of a similarly inept Georgia Tech squad (0.932).

And, to paraphrase Sir Christopher Wren's epitaph, if you seek Clemson's problems on offense, look around you, for those weaknesses manifested themselves in nearly every facet of the sport. Brownell's men were at least average on the offensive glass, but, otherwise in ACC play, the Tigers were signally unsuccessful at such essential activities as shooting (45 percent on 2s; 30 percent on 3s), taking care of the ball or even getting themselves to the line.

Brownell stuck with a fairly strict seven-man rotation, and when an outside observer is presented with a short bench and a late-season swoon, the knee-jerk analysis is to say these guys just ran out of gas. National titles won by Duke in 2010 and Kentucky in 2012 have made it somewhat more difficult to fear short benches categorically. However, in this case, the knee-jerk verdict might not be far off the mark. In its last 10 ACC games -- when, as we've seen, the schedule became more difficult -- Clemson managed to score just 0.89 points per possession.

Now Booker and Jennings have graduated, so two of the main factors behind Clemson's one undeniable strength -- interior defense -- have been removed from the equation. Then again, regression to the mean can be kind, and it's difficult to envision a major conference team following up on what we saw on offense from the Tigers last season with anything other than improvement, however modest it might be.

The improvement on offense is likely to start with McDaniels. He might not be a household name, but McDaniels is both his team's leading returning scorer and, arguably, its most important defender. Granted, the "leading returning scorer" part means merely that the leading scorer from last season (Booker) is gone. For his part, McDaniels averaged 11 points per contest as a sophomore by making nearly half his 2s and hitting roughly one 3 per outing. He'll be given the opportunity to show he can flower into an effective featured scorer, but we already know that McDaniels can defend. Despite a listed height of 6-foot-6, he blocked eight percent of opponents' 2s during his minutes and did so largely without fouling.

Jaron Blossomgame will be alongside McDaniels at the other forward. Blossomgame was Brownell's top recruit heading into last season, but surgery on his leg forced him to take a redshirt. Then, this past June, his progress was again called into question when a second surgery was performed on the same (left) leg. If he's healthy, Blossomgame's skills as a face-up scorer could definitely give Clemson's struggling offense a boost.

Rounding out the frontcourt is Landry Nnoko, still something of an unknown quantity after a freshman season in which he averaged less than seven minutes per game. That's about to change, however, as the 6-foot-10 Nnoko will be given every chance to lock down the job as starting big man. He projects to be a strong presence on the offensive glass, though likely a foul-prone strong presence.

As a sophomore, Nnoko will find plenty of classmates in this season's backcourt rotation, starting with Jordan Roper. Functioning as one of the most diminutive shooting guards seen in major conference hoops since the days of A.J. Abrams at Texas, Roper attempted 120 2-point shots as an ACC freshman under 6 feet. Immutably enough, that didn't go so well. The young man did, however, make 41 percent of his 3s. Roper gives Clemson a legitimate outside threat (as well as an aggressive perimeter defender), and Brownell is reportedly going to take a long look at moving his sophomore over to point guard.

Lastly, Devin Coleman is expected to be a starter as a redshirt sophomore after missing all of last season with a torn Achilles. In his freshman season in 2011-12, he finished strong, increasing his playing time as the season progressed. In fact, Coleman was the Tigers' leading scorer in their season-ending loss to Virginia Tech in the 2012 ACC tournament. This season, he'll be afforded the opportunity to attain that same distinction much more often.

This season's bench might be led by last season's starting point guard, Rod Hall. As a sophomore, Hall performed serviceably enough in a role that was not necessarily his natural position. (He had functioned as a combo guard off the bench as a freshman. In neither season did he attempt many shots from the field.) As a junior, he figures to provide defense-oriented depth behind the likes of Coleman and Roper.

Other backcourt options will include Damarcus Harrison and Adonis Filer. Harrison became eligible to play last season after transferring from BYU. He made 14 starts for Brownell, and, while Harrison does provide further backcourt depth at guard, his career 3-point shooting (24 percent) suggests he might wish to focus on scoring more in the paint as a junior. Filer averaged no less than 20 minutes per game as a freshman point guard despite recording just four starts.

This is a young team, a glass that Brownell is, for the moment, professing to see half full. "Because the guys are closer in age" than they were last season, the coach has been quoted as saying, "they seem closer together" off the court.

Cohesion off the court notwithstanding, the question facing Clemson in 2013-14 is how many points it will score. With no players who've functioned as a featured scorer at the D-I level, the Tigers will be learning on the job when it comes to offense. That spells a sub-.500 finish in what promises to be a very tough ACC.

Projected 2013-14 conference finish: 13th