Clemson Men’s Basketball: It shouldn’t have been like this

Clemson men's basketball head coach Brad Brownell talks during media interview at the Poe Indoor facility in Clemson, South Carolina Monday, November 4, 2019.Clemson Basketball Brad Brownell
Clemson men's basketball head coach Brad Brownell talks during media interview at the Poe Indoor facility in Clemson, South Carolina Monday, November 4, 2019.Clemson Basketball Brad Brownell /

Clemson Men’s Basketball just finished their season with a whimper in the first round of the NIT.

It was a season at one point that seemed like it would be a roar with the Tigers dancing in the NCAA Tournament.

Unlike years past, Tiger fans were suddenly incensed with a NET metric that they couldn’t have given two flips about for most of the years it had existed because it never impacted the discussion about Clemson Men’s Basketball.

Now we sit here as fans trying to dissect what went wrong.

Much of the postseason discussion has centered on Athletic Director Graham Neff’s decision to retain Head Coach Brad Brownell.

Neff’s letter to fans after last season indicated that this year’s team should qualify for the NCAA Tournament. The insinuation was that if they didn’t, Clemson was likely to make a change with the leadership of the program.

Instead, Neff announced Monday that Brownell would return for the 2023-24 season based on his assertion that the Tigers were an NCAA Tournament quality team, and the committee simply whiffed.

Now, for the first time in his tenure, Neff is taking hard criticism from fans for making the decision too quickly.

It isn’t an indictment to have believed this team was different at a certain point in the season. I wrote on Rubbing The Rock that the fans needed to give Brownell credit for a strong run in the ACC to that point.

Even at that point, however, the flaws that would doom this team had been shown. Which brings up the biggest, and perhaps most damaging question for Brownell:

How is it possible that this experienced, veteran team could be so vulnerable to mental breakdowns against teams that shouldn’t have a chance against them?

One of the biggest reasons why we have had so much parity in college basketball in recent years has been that the best players spend only 1-2 years at the blue-blood programs before moving on to a professional career.

That is why so many mid-major programs, like Loyola Chicago, VCU and St. Peter’s, have made runs in the tournament. Teams from smaller programs have a chance to “get old” with experienced players.

Clemson was a team that was able to ‘get old’. Their best returning players were seniors or juniors. Their biggest transfer was a senior. This wasn’t a team that was going to overwhelm competition with talent. This was a team that should have been steady and consistent, and able to withstand the mental rigors that the season brings.

Instead, Clemson wilted under those pressures. Brownell pointed to pressure and anxiety multiple times when things went bad for the Tigers. The bad losses this season were amplified with the NIT loss to a 15.5 point underdog.

It is fair for fans to question and criticize both Brownell and Neff for the outcome of the season for Clemson Men’s Basketball

Which now brings us to the most damaging question of Neff’s short tenure thus far:

Why didn’t he wait before making an announcement about Brownell’s future? Why didn’t he wait to see if the team was going to justify his confidence?

Neff is relatively inexperienced as the leader of an athletic department. He got a little caught up in making a statement to the NCAA instead of doing what was right for the fans of the programs he runs.

It shouldn’t have been like this. A team this experienced shouldn’t have been dropping games to bad competition. That is squarely on Coach Brownell.

The AD shouldn’t have jumped to conclusions before the team was done playing their games. Because he did, a coach who has been with the program a very long time will return again, even though the program has produced little joy for the fans during his tenure.

Next. Clemson comes up short against Morehead State. dark