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September 12, 2008


Head coach: Oliver Purnell
Last season: 24-10 overall, 10-6 in ACC
Postseason: Lost 75-69 to Villanova in first round of NCAA Tournament
Breakdown: Probable starters | Backcourt | Frontcourt | Offense | Defense | Outlook

BACKCOURT

The loss of four-year starter Cliff Hammonds leaves the Tigers without their offensive catalyst. The Tigers ran a good bit of their plays through Hammonds, who was the best decision-maker and passer on the team.

Senior K.C. Rivers is Clemson's leading returning scorer.

PROBABLE STARTING FIVE
G Demontez Stitt, 6-2/Soph.
8.8 ppg, 3.0 apg
G Terrence Oglesby, 6-2/Soph.
10.5 ppg, 40.3% 3-pt
G/F K.C. Rivers, 6-5/Sr.
14.7 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 40.2% 3-pt, 1.9 spg
F Trevor Booker, 6-7/Jr.
11.0 ppg, 7.3 rpg, 1.9 bpg
F Raymond Sykes, 6-9/Sr.
4.4 ppg, 2.4 rpg
TOP RESERVES
G David Potter, 6-6/Jr.
4.8 ppg
G Andre Young, 5-9/Fr.
True freshman
Much of that responsibility now will fall on promising sophomore Demontez Stitt. A speedy point guard whose strength is attacking off the dribble, Stitt started from Day One last season and shored up the one spot that could have been a weakness for the Tigers. He'll need to transition into more of a playmaker and focus on getting his teammates involved for the Tigers to return to the NCAA Tournament.

Three-point specialist Terrence Oglesby is another sophomore guard who played a major role last season. Oglesby emerged as one of the nation's top sixth men, tying for second in the ACC with 85 3-pointers and averaging 10.5 points despite not starting a game. Oglesby, who played with the Norwegian team at the U-20 European Championships this past summer, probably will move into the starting lineup, and the Tigers will make a bigger effort to free him up for open looks beyond the arc.

Junior wing David Potter, a steady part of the rotation last season, will see his playing time increase and may even start if the Tigers choose to go with a smaller lineup. Freshman Andre Young, a three-star recruit, probably will see 12-15 minutes a game backing up Stitt. A true point guard, the 5-9 Young has been compared to Oregon's Tajuan Porter, an undersized point who led the Ducks to the Elite Eight in 2007.

FRONTCOURT

The return of senior K.C. Rivers gives the Tigers one of the nation's top small forwards and most versatile players. A left-hander with shooting range beyond the 3-point line, Rivers was the only player in the ACC last season to rank in the top 15 in scoring (11th), rebounding (14th) and steals (fourth). With the loss of two double-digit scorers Hammonds and power forward James Mays Rivers will be asked to carry more of the scoring load in 2008-09.

Junior power forward Trevor Booker, one of the most underrated players in the ACC, has shown the potential to be a big-time scorer. Booker had a career-high 32 points in a loss to Charlotte last season and followed that with a 29-point outing in a win over Florida State. But there also were 15 games in which Booker failed to reach double-figures.

The Tigers will look to make Booker a bigger part of their offense, but it's his rebounding and blocks that will be counted on the most. He led the team in both stats last season, and with Mays gone, he'll have to do more of both.

The same goes for senior center Raymond Sykes, who will see more playing time after averaging 14.5 minutes per game last season. Sykes isn't much of a scoring threat, but he has the size to give the Tigers an inside presence.

The wild card is 7-foot-2 Romanian Catalin Baciu, the No. 106 prospect in the 2008 class. Baciu is a project, but his size alone should make him a force defensively. He should provide some much-needed depth in the post.

OFFENSE

The Tigers run a traditional motion offense with an emphasis on a lot of ball movement around the perimeter. They'll look to get the ball inside - primarily to Booker - in an effort to get defenses to collapse and free up space for Rivers and Oglesby, arguably the best tandem of 3-point shooters in the ACC.

DEFENSE

Even with the loss of key veterans (Cliff Hammonds and James Mays), the Tigers return enough firepower to get back to the NCAA Tournament. Rivers can carry an offense, and he's surrounded by a talented supporting cast. The defense is going to take a step back, and lack of depth could be an issue. But the schedule is favorable. The non-conference part includes just two trips outside the state of South Carolina (and one of those is to nearby Charlotte), and the Tigers have to face North Carolina (national title favorite), Duke and Miami - which is being projected as the third-best team in the league - only once apiece. Don't expect another No. 5 seed in the NCAA Tournament, but we believe the Tigers will be one of the last teams to receive an at-large bid to the field of 65.
Coach Oliver Purnell employs an aggressive man-to-man and often mixes in a full-court press, which has generated much of the Tigers' offense in the past. Mays and Hammonds were big parts of the press, and their departure probably means it will be used significantly less.

SHOES TO FILL

Hammonds. Rivers has better stats and gets more attention, but Hammonds was the Tigers' most valuable player the past two seasons. He helped in virtually every area of the game. His defense, particularly on-the-ball pressure, and leadership will be tough to replace.

MUST STEP UP

Booker. With Mays gone, the Tigers need Booker to be much more reliable. He has the potential to be an All-ACC selection.

IMPACT NEWCOMER

Young. A pass-first point guard, this freshman will be a good fit for a team with a handful of scoring threats. Expect his playing time to increase as the season progresses.

Andrew Skwara is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at askwara@rivals.com.



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