Brownell relying on underclassmen

The non-conference portion of Clemson's schedule, which resulted in four losses by Dec. 12 for the first time since 1999, showed that second-year coach Brad Brownell may be hard-pressed to push the Tigers to a fourth straight winning record in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

Last season, Brownell was blessed by having savvy and experience in players such as Demontez Stitt and Jerai Grant.

"I had a bunch of older players who weren't wide-eyed to the competition, so when they went into ACC venues, they still expected to win," Brownell said.

The "wide-eyed" factor is back this season, as Brownell is trying to blend five freshmen into a rotation that is built around senior guards Andre Young and Tanner Smith, neither of whom has ever had to carry the banner of team leader.

Clemson's non-conference schedule admittedly has been a bit more challenging this season, but the rigors of ACC play will prove considerably more challenging, so the Tigers will have to mature in a hurry. The Tigers do get a break in that they only have to play league kingpins North Carolina and Duke once each, but once ACC play heats up, all teams are capable of winning, regardless of venue.

They key is likely to be the maturation of inside players Devin Booker and Milton Jennings, a pair of juniors whose production has been up-and-down this season. Jennings recently followed a double-double with a two-point, one-rebound game, and the two players combined for just 13 points and 12 rebounds in a loss at Arizona on Dec. 10. They'll have to step up their games if the Tigers are to have ACC success again.

"If they can do that, then I think we've got a chance to finish in the top half of the league again and really be productive," Brownell said.

THURSDAY NOTES Clemson has won at least nine ACC games each of the past four seasons. That's a first in school history.

* Clemson led the ACC in scoring defense last season, allowing just 61.4 points per game. That was the third-best figure by an ACC team since the 1996-97 season.

* Clemson coach Brad Brownell became just the 11th first-year head coach in ACC history to post a .500 record or better in his first season.

* Clemson senior guard Tanner Smith is bidding to become just the second player in Clemson history to be named to the ACC All-Academic team four times. The first was Shawan Robinson, who graduated in 2006.

PLAYER TO WATCH: G Andre Young -- As Young goes, so go the Tigers. Clemson's leading scorer and top 3-point threat, the senior's success is closely tied to his team's. In Clemson's four victories this season, he's hit 12 of 19 (63.2 percent) from beyond the arc; in the Tigers' four losses, he's hit just 10 of 36 (27.8 percent) from long range. He'll either need to be more consistent or another outside shooter will have to emerge for Clemson to challenge for an upper-half finish in the rugged Atlantic Coast Conference.

KEY CONFERENCE GAME: Jan. 7 vs. Florida State -- It won't take long for Clemson to begin sizing itself up as the Tigers open their ACC schedule with a home game against the Seminoles, who are expected to be one of the league's better teams. Clemson has won nine straight games against Florida State at Littlejohn Coliseum, and defending the home court is imperative in the ACC. The goal is to win all home games, then try to steal a win or two on the road. Defending the home court in this battle will be step No. 1 and help set the tone for the rest of the conference schedule.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "At the beginning of the season, you're still trying to figure things out a little bit. We need to be playing better in February -- that's when you want to be playing your best basketball." -- Clemson coach Brad Brownell on his team's early struggles.

NEXT UP: The Tigers return to the hardwood Saturday afternoon against in-state rival Winthrop. Tip-off at Littlejohn Coliseum is set for 4:30. Top Stories