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No. 22 Clemson Tigers: Can Clemson handle a full season of being the hunted?

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Beginning in September and running up until November 6th, the first day of the season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2018-2019 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.

Every day at Noon ET, we will be releasing an in-depth preview of one member of our Preseason Top 25.

Today we dive into No. 22 Clemson.


For the first time in seven years and for just the second time in the tenure of Brad Brownell, the Clemson Tigers are entering a college basketball season coming off of a trip to the NCAA tournament.

For the first time in 21 season, Clemson won a game in the NCAA tournament, getting to the Sweet 16 for the fourth time in the history of the program and picking up just their 10th tournament win ever.

Suffice to say, this is not a school that is accustomed to basketball success, which is what makes this season all-the-more fascinating.

Clemson is this year’s Northwestern. For the first time in the history of their program, the Wildcats reached the NCAA tournament in 2017 and, with essentially everyone on their roster returning the following season, they entered 2017-18 as a team that popped up in just about everyone’s preseason top 20. We all know how that story ended: The Wildcats faded back into obscurity as the pressure of playing as ‘the hunted’ and the weight of expectation was too much for them. They finished just 15-17 overall and 6-12 in the Big Ten, losing their final seven games before disappearing back into irrelevance.

Is that what’s in story for Clemson this season?

In theory, it shouldn’t be, but the response to success is sometimes just as important as finding it in the first place.

MOREPreseason Top 25 | NBC Sports All-Americans | Preview Schedule

CLEMSON WILL BE GOOD BECAUSE …

In an era where we constantly focus on one-and-done recruits that will have to adjust to playing in the college ranks, Clemson will feature the oldest backcourt possible.

Marcquise Reed and Shelton Mitchell — who combined to average 28.0 points and 6.9 assists for one of the slower teams in the ACC last season — are both going to be redshirt seniors this season, heading into their fourth season under Brownell’s tutelage after transferring into the program from Robert Morris and Vanderbilt, respectively. They won’t have any hype heading into the season but I’m not sure there are three teams in the ACC with better guards. Duke, sure. Virginia, probably. Maybe North Carolina? Syracuse?

And they aren’t the only veterans in this Clemson starting lineup.

Elijah Thomas will be back for his senior season after finally looking like the player that was a top 30 recruit coming out of high school last season. Throw David Skara into the mix after he opted to return to school, and Brownell has a team that might end up collecting social security checks by the end of the season.

That’s a good thing, because it lends credence to the idea that the Tigers can continue to be one of the best defensive teams in college basketball this season.

Last year, Clemson finished 7th nationally in KenPom’s defensive efficiency metric, which is the highest that Brownell has ever had a team finish in his coaching career. He’s had good defenses before — that’s what he is known for as a coach — but the previous three seasons, the Tigers failed to crack the top 50 defensively. Clemson is not going to be Villanova. They just do not have the horses to be able to take 30 threes a game and put up 90 points without breaking a sweat. If they’re going to end the year where we have them starting the season, it’s going to be because of continuity on the defensive end.

Combining a pair of all-league-caliber guards with a defense that projects as top three in the conference is a great place for a team to start.

RELATED: Expert Picks | CBT Podcast | Best non-conference games
Elijah Thomas and Marcquise Reed (Donald Miralle/Getty Images)

BUT CLEMSON IS GOING TO STRUGGLE BECAUSE …

We more or less know who Clemson’s top five is going to be.

A season ago, the Tigers played with an eight-man rotation — seven after Donte Grantham tore his ACL in January — and three of those eight have since graduated. You don’t need to be an analytics guru to figure, then, that Clemson’s best five this year will be the four aforementioned seniors — Reed, Mitchell, Thomas and Skara — along with sophomore Aaric Simms, who slid into the starting lineup after Gratham’s season ended.

Beyond that, however, it’s really hard to figure where Clemson is going to get minutes and production from.

Let’s start with this: Last season, the Tigers thrived with a three-guard look, as Reed, Mitchell and the now-graduated Gabe Devoe all averaged roughly 34 minutes. When one of them would get a blow on the bench, Brownell typically went to a bigger lineup, which is not necessarily a great sign for the young guards waiting in the wings on this roster — Anthony Oliver II and Clyde Trapp, both of whom are sophomores and neither of whom saw more than eight minutes per game last year.

Can Brownell trust either of them? Will four-star freshman John Newman III be ready to contribute immediately? I’d bet on the latter over the former, but either way, someone is going to have to play those minutes, not only to ensure that Reed and Mitchell won’t play 40 minutes a night but to allow Clemson some lineup versatility. Teams that can switch between a three-guard, small-ball look and lineups with three forwards on the floor are tougher to prepare for and matchup with than a team will only play one way.

It’s worth noting here that I am slightly less concern about frontcourt depth. Both Skara and Simms — who we’ll talk more about below — can play the forward spots, and Clemson did bring in Javan White, a 6-foot-10 grad transfer from Oral Roberts.

Aamir Simms (Al Bello/Getty Images)

THE X-FACTOR

Did anyone get better this offseason?

As the saying goes, the best thing about freshmen is that they become sophomores, and Brownell is very much going to hope that is the case for Clemson this season.

We’ve already touched on how important it will be for one of (or both) Trapp or Oliver to take a step forward this season, but perhaps the most intriguing player on the roster is going to be Aamir Simms.

In the past, Brownell has deployed a small-ball four to great impact, whether it was K.J. McDaniels, Jaron Blossomgame or Grantham, and Simms profiles has the next in that pipeline. He proved to be an effective defender during his freshman season, and he profiles as a guy that could end up being one of the best defenders in the ACC as his career progresses. He is one of the biggest reasons why I think Clemson will once again finish in or around the top ten in defensive efficiency this year.

The key is going to be how he develops on the offensive side of the ball.

McDaniels and Blossomgame were both second round draft picks, and not just because of what they provided defensively; they both averaged better than 17 points in their final season with Clemson. Grantham averaged 14.3 points as a senior. They were vital cogs in what the Tigers did offensively.

Simms averaged just 5.7 points in the 16 games after Grantham got injured. He shot just 32.6 percent from three as a freshman. Clemson lost two of their top three scorers from a team that wasn’t exactly an offensive juggernaut. Someone is going to have to step up and provide a spark on that end of the floor.

If Simms is that guy, I think Clemson can hit their ceiling …

2018-19 OUTLOOK

… I’m just not quite sure what that ceiling is.

I don’t think that Clemson fans can expect all that much more than last year’s Sweet 16 run this season. They haven’t really added pieces to get better considering the losses they’ve suffered.

That said, their floor is also very high. Clemson projects as a team that is going to be very good, if not elite defensively. They have a pair of guards that will show up on all-ACC teams that are both fifth-year seniors with experience winning in March. Those are the two things we look for, right?

So while I don’t think Clemson is going to be all that exciting this year, no one ever said a team needs to be exciting to win a lot of games.

THE REST OF THE TOP 25

No. 23 Michigan
No. 24 N.C. State
No. 25 Marquette

Iowa basketball coach admits to sexually exploiting 400 boys

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IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) — A prominent Iowa youth basketball coach faces potentially decades in prison after admitting to a yearslong pattern of sexually exploiting and abusing at least 400 boys, including former players, their friends and other young athletes.

Greg Stephen, 42, posed as girls on social media to trick the boys into making live videos masturbating. He secretly recorded them showering during trips to tournaments. In some cases he recorded himself fondling nude players as they slept.

The massive scope of Stephen’s abuse was revealed in a plea agreement filed Thursday after the former Iowa Barnstormers coach pleaded guilty to seven charges, including sexually exploiting minors and possessing and transporting child pornography, in federal court in Cedar Rapids.

Stephen’s arrest in March shocked the basketball community in Iowa, where he for years was a coach and co-director of the Adidas-sponsored traveling program for the state’s top youth players. The case has played out amid heightened awareness of sexual abuse in sports triggered by the arrest of disgraced gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar, who is serving decades in prison after hundreds of women and girls accused him of sexually assaulting them under the guise of medical treatment.

Stephen acknowledged that he had a hard drive containing folders named for 400 different boys, each containing explicit photos and videos that he had amassed over the years through his involvement in the program for children ages 9 to 17. Many former Barnstormers have gone on to play college basketball at Division 1 programs.

Some images were of boys undressing and showering, captured by recording devices that Stephen secretly placed in hotel bathrooms. Devices designed to look like a bath towel hook and a smoke detector were used at his home in Monticello, Iowa, and his lake cabin in nearby Delhi.

Stephen also took photos and videos of sleeping boys with their pants pulled down, including recordings of himself touching their genitals with his hands and, in at least one case, his mouth.

One such recording involved a boy who was 11 or 12 and had been given medication by Stephen that made him drowsy beforehand. Stephen would share beds with players during trips in which players competed in American Athletic Union tournaments or attended NBA games.

When they weren’t traveling together, Stephen often posed as teenage girls on Facebook and Snapchat and used those profiles to trick boys into giving him explicit images. He would offer to exchange nude videos and photos, telling the boys the types of images to produce. He used software to record live transmissions of the boys without their knowledge, and saved those images as well as their chats.

Prosecutors said the victims’ folders included at least one explicit video or photo of each, with some containing many different types. The plea agreement says that Stephen “committed sexual acts and sexual contact” on an unspecified number of boys.

The conduct occurred in 2018 and in “past seasons going back several years,” according to the plea agreement, which notes Stephen had been involved with the Barnstormers since 2008.

Stephen had initially offered an innocent explanation of the videos of boys showering, telling investigators they were intended to monitor their physical development and were not sexual in nature.

Stephen’s conduct was exposed after his former brother-in-law, Vaughn Ellison, discovered a recording device while remodeling Stephen’s home in February. Ellison gave the device to police after seeing that it contained several videos of boys showering in hotels in Lombard, Illinois, and Ankeny, Iowa. Investigators obtained warrants to search Stephen’s homes , where they found the hard drive and other devices.

Stephen’s attorneys have argued that the evidence should be suppressed because it was based on Ellison’s unlawful seizure of a device. A judge rejected that argument earlier this month . The plea agreement allows Stephen to appeal that decision to the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals.

If his conviction stands on appeal, Stephen will face a minimum of 15 years in prison and a maximum of 180 at sentencing, which hasn’t been scheduled. He has been in custody since his arrest and will remain jailed pending sentencing.

The agreement notes that the potential sentence he faces will be lengthened due to the number and age of victims, the fact that he engaged in sexual acts and contact with multiple boys, and that he had supervisory control over them.

NCAA denies Oregon State forward’s request for immediate eligibility

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While Virginia received good news on Monday regarding its immediate eligibility appeal on behalf of Alabama transfer Braxton Key, Oregon State was not as fortunate.

Tuesday afternoon it was announced that the school’s appeal of the NCAA’s initial refusal to grant power forward Payton Dastrup immediate eligibility has also been denied. As a result Dastrup, who began his collegiate career at BYU, will have to sit out the 2018-19 season and Oregon State will be short a big as it looks to account for the early departure of Drew Eubanks.

Dastrup will have two seasons of eligibility at Oregon State, beginning with the 2019-20 campaign, and he will be able to practice with the team this season.

Senior Gligorije Rakocevic and junior Ben Koné are Oregon State’s most experienced interior players, with the former having averaged 2.7 points and 2.2 rebounds in 10.6 minutes per game in 2017-18. Koné was limited to just 16 games as a sophomore, as he underwent an arthroscopic procedure on his left knee last October.

Junior Kylor Kelley and freshmen Warren Washington and Jack Wilson will also factor into the Beavers’ post rotation, with the 7-foot tall Kelley having averaged 9.9 points, 7.5 rebounds and 4.6 blocks per game at Lane (Oregon) CC last season.

Duquesne’s A.J. Palumbo Center getting $45 million makeover

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PITTSBURGH (AP) — Duquesne is giving the A.J. Palumbo Center a major makeover after the upcoming basketball season.

The school announced Tuesday that the reimagined 30-year-old arena will be named UPMC Cooper Fieldhouse after former Duquesne basketball player Chuck Cooper. Cooper played for the Dukes from 1947-1950 before becoming the first African-American to be drafted by an NBA team. The Boston Celtics selected Cooper in the second round.

The renovation is expected to begin in March and cost an estimated $45 million. It is scheduled to be completed in time for the 2020-21 season. The school did not say where the Dukes would play in the meantime.

The Palumbo Center opened in 1988 and serves as the home for the Duquesne men’s and women’s basketball teams. While the updated arena will have wider concourses, a new video board and upgrades to premium seats, capacity is expected to stay around 4,400.

Former Cincinnati assistant charged with misdemeanor assault

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Former Cincinnati associate head coach Larry Davis, who abruptly announced his retirement after more than 30 years in college coaching, is now facing a federal misdemeanor assault charge in connection with an incident that occurred on an airplane in September 2017.

According to FOX 19 Cincinnati, Davis is alleged to have groped a female passenger during a flight from Milwaukee to Charlotte on September 12, 2017. The victim filed a report with the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department that day. The charge is of the federal variety due to the fact that the alleged incident occurred on an airplane.

Davis served a 12-day, paid suspension as a result of the incident, with the punishment beginning on September 15, 2017, according to the Cincinnati Enquirer.

Cincinnati athletic director Mike Bohn released a statement regarding the matter Tuesday, saying that the school had begun “the process for separation” shortly before Davis tendered his resignation last month.

“In Fall 2017, we learned of allegations against former employee Larry Davis regarding an off-campus incident which did not involve any member of the campus community. We immediately took proactive measures and suspended him from his duties while we took additional steps to ascertain more information. We could not substantiate the allegations at that time.

“We recently learned that the allegations may have additional support. Consistent with our guiding principles, we immediately commenced the process for separation.”

Davis, who had been a member of Mick Cronin’s coaching staff since 2006, was the head coach at Furman from 1997 to 2006. While Cronin was away from the team due to a health issue during the 2014-15 season, Davis served as interim head coach.

No. 4 Duke: Can Blue Devils avoid another disappointing season?

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Beginning in September and running up until November 6th, the first day of the season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2018-2019 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.

Every day at Noon ET, we will be releasing an in-depth preview of one member of our Preseason Top 25.

Today we dive into No. 4 Duke.


Duke, once again, is going to enter a college basketball season with the best recruiting class in the sport.

The difference this year is that not only will the Blue Devils bring in the best crop of freshmen, they bring in the best freshmen — four of the top 15 prospects in 247 Sports’ composite rankings will suit up for Coach K this season, including three of the top five and the No. 1 and 2 players in the nation. There are some outlets that rank R.J. Barrett, Zion Williamson and Cam Reddish as the three best recruits in the class, and there’s a chance that those three could end up being the top three picks in the 2019 NBA Draft.

Let’s ignore the how for now.

(The FBI’s investigation into corruption in college basketball has told us that everyone breaks NCAA rules, but the best players in the country turn down hundreds of thousands of dollars and jobs for family members of the prestige of spending nine months on Duke’s campus?)

The issue here has been the product on the court.

Duke has been a disappointment relative to expectation more or less every year since Coach K made the decision to go all-in on one-and-done prospects. The obvious exception was in 2015, when the Blue Devils figured out how to defend in late February and wound up winning the national title. The same happened last season, but Duke was bounced in the Elite 8 when a Grayson Allen floater spent six seconds on the rim before falling off.

It hasn’t been a total disaster, but it is clear that Duke is nowhere near as consistently dominant now as they have been in the past. The Blue Devils haven’t won an ACC regular season title since 2010. They’ve won just one ACC tournament title since 2011. They’ve reached the second weekend of the tournament just three times in the last eight years.

The biggest issue has been on the defensive end of the floor. It got to the point last season where Duke had no choice but to play zone full-time.

I don’t think that will be the issue this year. Duke, on paper, looks like a team that should be able to guard.

But this team still has some warts that Coach K is going to have to work out.

MOREPreseason Top 25 | NBC Sports All-Americans | Preview Schedule

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DUKE WILL BE GOOD BECAUSE …

The amount of talent on this roster makes it nearly impossible for the Blue Devils to fail.

Let’s start with R.J. Barrett. The 6-foot-7 point forward is the overwhelming favorite at this point in the calendar to be the No. 1 pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, and rightfully so. He needs to continue to develop his jumpshot, but he has everything that you’re looking for in an NBA player in the modern NBA. He’s athletic, he’s big enough to be defensively versatile, he’s skilled enough to operate in ball-screens, he can get a bucket, he has impressive court-vision. As far as I’m concerned, all you need to know about Barrett is that, as a 17-year old, he put up 38 points, 13 boards and six assists for Canada in an upset of the United States — who were coached by John Calipari — en route to a gold medal in the U19 World Cup.

I don’t think Barrett is quite as good of a prospect as some of the elite prospects in past seasons, but I do think that it is clear he is the best player in this class.

R.J. Barrett, Reagan Lunn/@DukeMBB

I said ‘player’ and not ‘prospect’ because there are some people that believe Reddish, and not Barrett, actually has a higher ceiling. At 6-foot-8, Reddish is more of a scorer at this point in his development, although he has played as a ball-handler at the high school and AAU level. He’s probably the best shooter out of Duke’s freshmen as well, and has the tools to be a really good defender.

I haven’t even gotten to Zion Williamson yet. The most famous player in college basketball in years, Williamson became a social media sensation thanks to his otherworldly athleticism. He is 6-foot-7 and 280 pounds, yet he dunks from the free throw line like a normal human being claps backboard on a layup and he set Duke’s school record for vertical leap. He’s quick, he’s fast, he has impressive footwork and he’s skilled enough — he’ll be the most dangerous grab-and-go big in the history of college basketball — to be able to handle the ball. He’s even a better shooter and a (much) better passer than he gets credit for.

Throw in Tre Jones, the younger brother of Tyus and the first true point guard Duke has had since the elder Jones finished cutting down the net in Indianapolis in 2015, and we don’t need to discuss anyone else on the roster to justify ranking the Blue Devils in the top five.

RELATED: Expert Picks | CBT Podcast | Best non-conference games

BUT DUKE IS GOING TO STRUGGLE BECAUSE …

While I love all of the pieces in this freshmen class in a vacuum, I think there is reason to be concerned about how they all fit together.

Duke is going to try and play small this season. That’s not exactly breaking news here. Not only has Duke done this time and again in the past — Jabari Parker, Justise Winslow, Brandon Ingram and Jayson Tatum all played the for four the Blue Devils — but this group has three guys that can fill that role. In fact, this roster is the best-suited to playing that style. The ideal roster build for any team in this era of pace and space is having a point guard, a mobile five-man and three wings that can defend more than one position. That’s precisely what we see here.

It gets even more interesting when we start to think about the possibility of Zion Williamson playing the five a la Draymond Green.

The issue is the ability for the players on Duke to impact a game when they don’t have the ball in their hands.

What makes Golden State special in the NBA and what made Villanova so damn good in the college ranks last season is the same thing: The ability to shoot at every spot on the floor. Jalen Brunson was able to post-up and operate in ball-screens and beat a man one-on-one, but he was also a lethal catch-and-shoot guy. The same can be said for all of his teammates that played meaningful minutes, including center Omari Spellman, who scored 17 points and made four threes for the Atlanta Hawks this weekend.

Zion Williamson and R.J. Barrett, Reagan Lunn/@DukeMBB

The same thing is true with Golden State. Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala are the glue-guys on that team, but both of them cannot be left open from the three-point line. Kevin Durant and Steph Curry are two of the best isolation players in the NBA, but if you leave them open you will pay. Klay Thompson is one of the best three-point shooters in the history of the game.

Duke?

They have four freshmen that are all super-talented but that need to ball in their hands to be effective. Neither Zion nor Barrett are good enough from beyond the arc to force a defender to close out long on them. Reddish can make threes, but he’s known more as a scorer than a shooter at this point in his development than anything else. Jones is fine, but he’s more of a driver and playmaker than he is a shooter.

Without guys to space the floor, without someone willing to accept a role, running offense that doesn’t devolve into players going one-on-one into a crowded lane is difficult.

THE X-FACTOR

For me, the key here is going to be Reddish.

He has something of a reputation from the high school and AAU ranks as a talented kid that played on teams that lost far more games than they should have lost. He’s also going to be the guy that will likely end up having to make the most sacrifices for the good of the team.

Think about it like this: Jones is going to be the natural point guard on this team, and Barrett is going to be the guy that handles secondary ball-handling duties. Zion will be a grab-and-go threat and could lead the country in fast break buckets. In the halfcourt, his role will be pretty clearly defined — he’s going to be the guy attacking the glass and the player that gets isolated against slower and/or smaller defenders.

Reddish is the odd man out.

For a player that has spent his entire life as a lead guard, how will he take to being asked to play on a wing as something of a 3-and-D specialist?

2018-19 OUTLOOK

Duke’s outlook this season is no different than their outlook for the past four or five years.

They have as much raw talent as anyone in the sport of college basketball. They will enter the season as a consensus top four team that some folks are going to rank No. 1 overall. They are going to be the odds-on favorite to win the ACC regular season title, a favorite to get to the Final Four and one of the few true national title contenders in college basketball.

And there enough question marks about the talent, the youth, how the pieces fit and whether or not the pieces truly fit and how well Coach K is going to handle dealing with this much roster turnover to keep us from going all in on the Blue Devils.

Anything short of the Final Four will be yet another disappointment from this group.

THE REST OF THE TOP 25

No. 5 Villanova
No. 6 Nevada
No. 7 Tennessee
No. 8 Virginia
No. 9 North Carolina
No. 10 Auburn
No. 11 Kansas State
No. 12 Virginia Tech
No. 13 Michigan State
No. 14 Florida State
No. 15 TCU
No. 16 UCLA
No. 17 West Virginia
No. 18 Oregon
No. 19 Syracuse
No. 20 LSU
No. 21 Mississippi State
No. 22 Clemson
No. 23 Michigan
No. 24 N.C. State
No. 25 Marquette