Northwestern basketball to play in Charleston Classic

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MARCH 11: (L-R) John Shurna #24, Alex Marcotullio #4 and Luka Mirkovic #12 of the Northwestern Wildcats walk up court dejected during overtime against the Ohio State Buckeyes during the quarterfinals of the 2011 Big Ten Men's Basketball Tournament at Conseco Fieldhouse on March 11, 2011 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Chris Chambers/Getty Images)

Teddy Greenstein essentially confirmed this a couple of weeks ago, but today Northwestern made it official, announcing that the basketball team will play in the Charleston Classic in mid-November. The Charleston Classic is an 8-team tournament owned and operated by ESPN, so fans will be able to watch the games on TV at the very least. The other seven teams are LSU, Seton Hall, Georgia Tech, Virginia Commonwealth, Tulsa, Saint Joseph's and Western Kentucky.

After assembling an embarrassingly soft non-conference schedule last year, it's nice to see Northwestern step it up and get themselves into a pre-season tournament against some BCS schools and strong mid-majors. However, a closer look reveals that this is actually a pretty weak field. In fact, I'm going to go out on a limb and say that Northwestern is a slight favorite to win this thing. Let's break it down:

Northwestern Wildcats

2011 Record: 20-14
2011 KenPom: 49th

Obviously Michael Thompson is a huge loss, but everyone else is back and Shurna will hopefully be healthy all season. I think we can at least expect them to maintain their NIT level.

LSU Tigers

2011 Record: 11-21
2011 KenPom: 227th

I'm not exactly sure what's happened to LSU in the last couple years, but they are awful. Big Baby Davis is not waddling through that door.

Seton Hall Pirates

2011 Record: 13-18
2011 KenPom: 59th

Despite their underwhelming record, Seton Hall was competitive last year, losing a lot of close games in the tough Big East. But they lose their two leading scorers, including noted chucker Jeremy Hazell.

Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets

2011 Record: 13-18
2011 KenPom: 89th

We could see a preview of the ACC-Big Ten Challenge match-up 2 weeks later here, against the underwhelming Georgia Tech team that NU blew out in Evanston last winter. It will probably take a couple years for Brian Gregory to rebuild this program.

Va. Commonwealth Rams

2011 Record: 28-12
2011 KenPom: 52nd

You'd think a team that made the Final Four last year would be the clear favorite here, but expect Shaka Smart's crew to take a big step back this season after losing 4 of their top 5 scorers to graduation. The last CAA team to make the Final Four (George Mason) went just 18-15 the year after their miracle run.

Tulsa Golden Hurricane

2011 Record: 19-13
2011 KenPom: 90th

NU fans will of course remember Tulsa knocking NU out of the NIT in 2009, but they likely won't be as formidable after losing 20 ppg scorer Justin Hurtt. Probably an NIT team at best.

St. Joseph's Hawks

2011 Record: 11-22
2011 KenPom: 183rd

This program has gone steadily downhill since the Jameer Nelson/Delonte West era, and is now one of the worst teams in the Atlantic 10. Phil Martelli has been there forever but may be wearing out his welcome after back-to-back 11 win seasons.

Western Kentucky Hilltoppers

2011 Record: 16-16
2011 KenPom: 225th

It would be fitting if NU were to play the Hilltoppers after the WKU football team flirted with NU's Division 1 record losing streak, but it wouldn't be much of a game as the Hilltopper basketball team has fallen on hard times since Courtney Lee led them to the Sweet 16 in 2008.

So there doesn't appear to be an NCAA tournament team in the field, with only Northwestern, VCU and maybe Seton Hall having an outside shot at it. This is an upgrade from the Arkansas-Pine Bluffs and Mount Saint Mary's of the world, but in order to get a marquee win before Big Ten, Bill Carmody and company will probably have to look elsewhere.

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