What's next for Clemson basketball?

With a successful first season in the books for Brad Brownell and his staff, CUTigers takes a look at the future by answering three pressing questions.

Entering the heart of December 2010, there weren't many fans, members of the media, or anybody for that matter that thought this year's team was headed to postseason play.

Coming off three consecutive losses, including a demoralizing home defeat to Michigan, not to mention the first loss to South Carolina since 2003, the Tigers appeared to be headed towards a massive rebuilding project.

It was evident time would be needed to convert Oliver Purnell's full-court pressure, helter-skelter style of play to Brad Brownell's half-court defensive philosophy that capitalized more on set plays and strong shooting.

But after the Tigers won 12 of their next 15 games, it was obvious the team quickly figured it out.

And after rumbling through a down year in the ACC with a 9-7 record, combined with a 23-point thrashing of Boston College in the quarterfinals of the ACC Tournament, Clemson found itself in the NCAA Tournament for the fourth consecutive season.

Simply put, it was a far cry for what was thought this team was capable of at the start of the season. (Remember Clemson was picked to finish in the bottom half of the ACC last fall.)

"It was a great year for us," Brownell said moments after the Tigers were eliminated by West Virginia. "We were picked anywhere from 7th to 12th in the ACC, and more people had us 9, 10 and 11 than anywhere else, I would say.

"But I'm proud of our seniors. I think they really led us. I think they served as great ambassadors for our team, and we improved a great deal from start to finish. And as a result we were playing really good basketball here down the stretch, and for those guys to be a group of seniors that have gone to four straight NCAA Tournaments, there's not many schools in the country that can say that."

"Our challenge will be next year. We lose some good players, and we'll be very young," Brownell said. (AP)
So now, with year one of the Brad Brownell era in the books, there's plenty of reason for concern, especially with the losses of seniors Jerai Grant and Demontez Stitt, but also optimism as well.

Brownell said as much in looking ahead to 2011.

"Our challenge will be next year. We lose some good players, and we'll be very young," he said. "We'll have great turnover. We'll have five freshmen at least next year. We'll have a couple of seniors that have played a lot. But next year will be a very difficult transition year for us from the standpoint of we're not starting over, but we've got to take a half a step back losing the two guys that we lost."

With those comments by Clemson's first-year head coach in mind, CUTigers takes a look at three burning questions facing Clemson basketball entering next year, and not surprisingly, it starts with recruiting.

#1. Who else will be added to the 2011 recruiting class?
Keep in mind the Tigers already have four prospects on board in the 2011 class, including two who have already signed their letters of intent in four-star forward Bernard Sullivan and guard T.J. Sapp.

Sullivan is viewed by basketball insiders as having the potential to be the next Trevor Booker. A left-hander who will play the power forward position, Sullivan has decent touch from the outside which could present matchup problems for bigger post players trying to defend him.

"Bernard has the size to both rebound and finish plays around the basket," Brownell said. "However, he also has a very good skill set which should allow him to step away from the basket and make shots or drive the ball in our motion offense."

Also, with commitments firmly in place from K.J. McDaniels and Devin Coleman, look for at least one more addition - and it could come from the junior college ranks.

Chris Colvin, a four-star point guard, is one name getting heavy attention from the Clemson coaching staff at the moment.

Naturally if he was signed he would take over for Stitt, running the point for the next two years.

Regardless, Brownell admitted after Thursday's loss to West Virginia five first-year players would be involved in Clemson's rotation to start the 2011-12 season- which means there will be plenty of early playing time to split up.

#2 Who will replace Stitt and Grant's scoring?
The natural expectation for Clemson's front court next season would be to expect an increased scoring role for Devin Booker. Clearly, it took some time for him to become comfortable in Clemson's new scheme, but as the season went along, there were flashes of his ability.

With Grant no longer in the picture, he'll have to take on an increased scoring role in 2012 if the Tigers are going to make the NCAA Tournament for a fifth consecutive season.

In addition, one of Clemson's young backcourt players, likely Sapp, will be depended on to replace Stitt.

Andre Young could see more shots as well, but at his size and as Clemson's lone elite sharp-shooter, teams could key on his skills forcing the action elsewhere.

And then there's Milton Jennings. A versatile player who is developing more confidence by the day, he'll be looked to next season for more timely shooting and an increased role as well.

Still, the bottom line here is, as Brownell said, Clemson's freshmen will be depended on in a very big way next season.

#3. What will year two look like under Brownell?
With just one season under his belt in Tigertown, Brad Brownell was able to do wonders with the Tigers in a number of key areas.

From shooting (the Tigers led the ACC in free throw shooting this year in league games), to installing a motion offense that made strong adjustments as the season went along, Clemson improved in many ways in 2010-11.

In a recent interview with CUTigers, Brownell admitted that year two would see even more of his basketball mind instilled in his team.

"We aren't able to put in everything in just one year," he said. "That's just the nature of what we do. So naturally as we go along, we'll be able to do more of what we've done at other stops along the way."

Brownell has also hinted his players at other schools became so entrenched in his basketball thinking that they would draw up their own plays during time outs.

He'll want to see the same thing at Clemson at some point, and chances are, he will.

While it would be easy to suggest Clemson basketball will take a step back next season, remember this: at one point in mid-February Clemson found itself tied late in the second half with North Carolina when Grant and Booker were held to a combined two points and with five on the floor that included former walk-on Zavier Anderson, little-used center Catalin Baciu, Bryan Narcisse, Milton Jennings and Tanner Smith, who was just a few weeks removed from knee surgery.

Brownell and his staff have proved they can coach with the best, and if next year's class has any talent whatsoever, there may not be as much of a drop-off as the average fan might think.

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