Omaha Arrival: Brownell not surprised Tigers are in Sweet 16

by - Staff Writer -
Brownell oversees practice in Omaha Thursday (Photo by Steven Branscombe, USA Today)
Brownell oversees practice in Omaha Thursday (Photo by Steven Branscombe, USA Today)

OMAHA, NE – For the first time in over 20 years, the Tigers will be playing in the Sweet 16, but Clemson head coach Brad Brownell isn’t at all surprised that his team is in this situation.

With players like Donte Grantham, Gabe DeVoe, Marcquise Reed, Shelton Mitchell and Elijah Thomas, the Clemson basketball has been building toward this moment. But it was back in August when Brownell knew he had a special group.

“Yeah, actually I did. I told our staff after we beat Florida down in Florida and we had beaten Ohio State at Ohio State that I thought we were Sweet 16 good. I really did,” Brownell said in a press conference Thursday afternoon. “I thought -- I believed in this team from the start, though. When we went to Spain on a foreign tour, I just left feeling unbelievably confident about our group because I loved our leadership. I loved the synergy and spirit of our team. I knew we had good players. I knew our starting five were good players and would play well this season.

“Then after we won at Ohio State and Florida, I told our staff I thought we were good enough to be in the Sweet 16 and maybe more. Now after Donte got hurt in our 19th game, you know, I don't know if I felt that way. Maybe that's why this is even sweeter is because our guys have really had to overcome significant adversity and we've had to make adjustments as a coaching staff here in the last month of the season. To our kids' credit, they've been extremely coachable and done the things we've asked them to do, and it's resulted in us finishing tied for third in the ACC and making it to the Sweet 16.”

Now that the moment has arrived, Brownell and his team are excited to be in Omaha.

“We're obviously very excited about being here in Omaha. Couldn't be more pleased with the way our guys played out in San Diego,” Brownell said. “I thought we played some of the best basketball of our season, especially in the win over Auburn. Just thought we were very good on both ends. It was just really a sweet situation for us, really happy for our seniors who have been through some things here with our program. We couldn't be more excited about having the opportunity to play a great Kansas team. Bill (Self) has done an unbelievable job with their team. They're probably not your typical Kansas team with two big power players and high-low motion offense that you usually see.”

However, with Kansas’ experienced guard play, Brownell knows the challenge that lies ahead when the Tigers and Jayhawks square off Friday evening at 7:10 p.m.

“Certainly the Kansas guards are all really good. Malik Newman is playing maybe as well as he's played. Right now looks like that, at least shooting the ball,” he said. “We obviously haven't followed him all year, but he's at another level. Devonte' Graham, we know very well and is an outstanding player, 17 points, eight assists a game. Great pace. Can score in the paint, make 3s, puts pressure on your defense. Svi is dynamic on the wing, big, 6'8", long, athletic, shoots 3s, drives, closeouts, gets in the paint, scores over the top of you. Vick, another unbelievable athlete. Makes 3s.

“I mean, it just goes on and on about their team. That's why they're really good. But the thing that needs to be said from a coaching perspective and what's fun about coaching in these tournaments is getting the opportunity to study other teams. And I've seen Bill's teams from afar, because I'm a basketball junkie and I study everything, but to watch him do what he's doing with this group, unbelievable coaching job, to take a different kind of team and to still win the conference and get them to play at this level, it's obviously why he's one of the best coaches in our game.”

Kansas will also have it’s 7-0 center – Udoka Azubuike – back after he missed the last week weeks with a knee injury.

“He's obviously huge. And everybody you talk to about Kansas says wait until you see him in person,” he said. “So we know he's got great size, and he's extremely competitive and physical. You see a very good competitive spirit in him in terms of how he plays and how physical he is. And if he gets the ball under the basket, you really can't stop him. We have to do a good job of trying, at least if he gets it, make it be six or eight feet away from the basket and make him make a bounce or two to try to make a play.

“Eli and Mark for us need to make him guard. We can't just let him stand under the basket and dunk balls and not have to play defense. We've got to make him play defense as well. But he's obviously a big piece. And in his absence, I think the other two guys did well. Obviously they're good players too. Those guys can -- they're a little bit different. They're not quite as big. But they both have other things they do well that are highlighted in Bill's offense.”

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