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ESPN Confirms The Existence Of The 2021 Charleston Classic

And, more specifically to our interests, confirms that Marquette men’s basketball will be in it.

Boise State v UNLV
We don’t get to use the Boise State mascot enough around these parts, so here you go.
Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Way back in the day, OUR GUY~! Ben Steele at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel provided us with all of the hip and cool information about some future upcoming non-conference tournaments that Marquette men’s basketball would be participating in down the road. One of those was the 2021 Charleston Classic. Given how everything [gestures broadly] has gone over the past 14 months, I had no idea whether or not 1) the Charleston Classic was going to happen as scheduled or 2) Marquette would be in it due to events getting jumbled because of how last season’s non-conference tournament schedule went.

Anyway, the point of the story is that ESPN, the owner of the Charleston Classic, announced the eight team field for the event on Thursday, and yes, YOUR Shaka Smart-led Golden Eagles will be in South Carolina on November 18, 19, and 21 this coming fall to play three teams out of this group: Boise State, Clemson, Elon, Ole Miss, St. Bonaventure, Temple, and West Virginia.

This means that we have our first unknown game announcements for the 2021-22 college basketball season. These three games as part of the Charleston Classic — excuse me, the Shriners Children’s Charleston Classic — will join a home game against UCLA in a return date from last year’s trip to Pauley Pavilion and a road game against Wisconsin as the known quantities on MU’s schedule. There’s also the Big East/Big 12 challenge series game (probably on the road?) that will pop up somewhere as well as a Gavitt Tipoff Games contest (probably at home?) to fit in, but the opponents still remain unknown at this time.

So let’s do what we do and jump in to figuring out what we can figure out about each of the seven possible opponents that Marquette will see in Charleston. We’ll go in alphabetical order because why not.

Boise State

2020-21 Record: 19-9, 14-6 Mountain West
2020-21 Final KenPom.com Rank: #61
2021-22 T-Rank Preseason Rank: #59, kind of
Head Coach: Leon Rice, in his 12th season at Boise State and overall as a Division 1 head coach
All-Time Series: Marquette leads, 1-0

As you can see from the “kind of” in Boise State’s T-Rank projection, the announcement that Abu Kigab will return to the Broncos for his COVID bonus season is kind of a big deal. Before factoring him and his 11.8 points and 5.4 rebounds per game into the picture, BSU was projected at #81 in the country by T-Rank, a far cry from the #59 that they will be at once things officially update. That’s pretty notable, as Boise State earned a #2 seed in the NIT this past season. The Broncos started off the year with a 13-1 record and only a season opening loss to eventual Final Four squad Houston marred their mark to that point. Things obviously went sideways on them in Mountain West play down the stretch, as they closed out the regular season with a 5-6 record in their last 11 games. Maybe they never really had a shot at an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament, but the fact of the matter is that Boise State was a lot better than their preseason KenPom rank (#106) said that they were going to be.

They do lose leading scorer Derrick Alston, Jr., but head coach Leon Rice appears to bring back his next seven scorers now that Kigab is signed up to return. You can do a lot worse than bringing back seven of your top eight even if you are losing your #1 guy.

The big thing to note about the Broncos is that they rebounded the hell out of the ball on the defensive end this past season. That’s a Leon Rice trademark, it seems, so while every team is different, I think it’s safe to expect that to happen again if Marquette ends up drawing BSU.

Clemson

2020-21 Record: 16-8, 10-6 ACC
2020-21 Final KenPom.com Rank: #45
2021-22 T-Rank Preseason Rank: #47
Head Coach: Brad Brownell, in his 12th season at Clemson and 20th season as a Division 1 head coach
All-Time Series: Marquette leads, 2-1

If Marquette finds themselves playing the Tigers in this event, then I think it’s safe to say that head coach Shaka Smart is going to get Olivier-Maxence Prosper involved in the game planning, especially if it’s on a short turnaround in the second or third round. Prosper played for Clemson as a freshman last season, so he’s going to be extremely familiar with the kinds of things that Brad Brownell wants to do on the court.

The Tigers present an interesting possible opponent for the Golden Eagles. Clemson is coming off just their third NCAA appearance in Brad Brownell’s tenure, and you could argue the first one, back in his first season, could really be credited to the previous coach. (Shouts to Oliver Purnell.) They’re going to have to figure out a way to operate without Aamir Simms, which is not going to be an easy thing to do. Simms, a 6’8” forward, led the Tigers in points, rebounds, and assists this past season and was one of the five best players in the ACC according to the KenPom.com Player of the Year algorithm. Brownell is set to bring back his next three best scorers, led by Al-Amir Dawes at 9.0 points per game. That doesn’t sound like much, but you have to remember that Clemson was one of the 20 slowest paced teams in the country last season.

The point of the story is that Clemson is going to want to make it to consecutive NCAA tournaments for the first time since 2011, and so they should be pretty motivated early in the season to get a power conference win over a team like Marquette. T-Rank says that we could expect the Tigers to be roughly the same team that they were last year, so that would give Marquette a chance to establish themselves as tournament contenders as well.

Elon

2020-21 Record: 10-9, 4-7 CAA
2020-21 Final KenPom.com Rank: #205
2021-22 T-Rank Preseason Rank: #164
Head Coach: Mike Schrage, in his third season at Elon and overall as a Division 1 head coach
All-Time Series: Marquette leads, 1-0

The big question for Elon in an early season tournament like this will be the health of Jerald Gillens-Butler. The 6’5” guard averaged 15.7 points, 5.3 rebounds, and 1.7 assists per game in the three games that he played in during the 2020-21 season, which were Elon’s first three games of the season. He blew out his Achilles tendon in a December 16th game against Campbell and missed the rest of the year. Is he going to be 100% by the time November rolls around?

Gillens-Butler officially tied with Hunter McIntosh for the team lead in points per game, and the Phoenix are projected to return three of the next four scorers from last year’s stat sheet with only redshirt senior Ikenna Ndugba headed out the door. Maybe with Gillens-Butler, Elon is a better team and does better than 4-7 in Colonial Athletic Association play. T-Rank certainly thinks that they’ll be a better team than they were in 2020-21. Of course, they’re being brought in as the sacrificial lamb in this tournament, but when your “projected to lose to everyone” team is still projected as a top 200 team, that’s probably a good thing for everyone making their way to South Carolina for the event.

Ole Miss

2020-21 Record: 16-12, 10-8 SEC
2020-21 Final KenPom.com Rank: #51
2021-22 T-Rank Preseason Rank: #71
Head Coach: Kermit Davis, in his fourth season at Ole Miss and 24th as a Division 1 head coach
All-Time Series: Marquette leads, 1-0

So, uh, the Kermit Davis Era of Ole Miss hoops isn’t going as well as the Ole Miss administration probably hoped it would. They got their first NCAA tournament appearance since 2015 in his first campaign, went 6-12 in the SEC in his second year meaning that they weren’t making the NCAAs even if COVID hadn’t wiped it out, and then a 16-12 record this past season left them just short of the national championship tournament. It did give them a #1 seed in the NIT..... but then they lost to Louisiana Tech in the first round.

On top of that, they look to take a step back from last season. They appear to be losing three of their top four scorers, with only 6’1” guard Jarkell Joiner (12.0 points, 2.6 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 1.1 steals) projected as returning out of that group of four. They do bring in in-state top 50 prospect Daeshun Ruffin to help bolster things, and three high major inbound transfers should help pave things over for Davis. The most notable name in the group there is is former Duke forward Jaemyn Brakefield, who was a top 50 prospect in the Class of 2020, but only had a part-time bench role on a 13-11 Blue Devils team that missed the NCAA tournament. Can Brakefield break out with a change of scenery and make an impact right away for the Rebels?

St. Bonaventure

2020-21 Record: 16-5, 11-4 Atlantic 10
2020-21 Final KenPom.com Rank: #32
2021-22 T-Rank Preseason Rank: #19
Head Coach: Mark Schmidt, in his 15th season at St. Bonaventure and 21st as a Division 1 head coach
All-Time Series: Marquette leads, 4-3

At a glance, you’d think that West Virginia would be the highest profile and most anticipated team out of the seven possible opponents for Marquette in this tournament. That’s not the case, because the Bonnies are 100% the team to watch at this event. They bring back their entire starting five from a team that won the A-10 regular season and tournament titles and earned a #9 seed in the NCAA tournament before bowing out to #8 LSU. They’re clearly going to be gunning for bigger and better things next season and getting a chance to make a splash in this event is going to be a huge step for St. Bonaventure. They only played two non-conference games last year — vs Akron on a neutral court and at home against Hofstra — so merely getting a chance to play against Major Seven conference opponents has a chance to build the Bonnies up, and if they get wins, hooboy, look out.

Since we don’t know exactly how Shaka Smart is going to want Marquette to play in his first season in charge, we can’t say for certain how MU matches up against the Bonnies. However, Mark Schmidt has been coaching his teams towards the slower end of the spectrum over the past few seasons. That’s to his benefit if he looks to play all of his starters for at least 33 minutes a night like he did in 2020-21. If Marquette can get out and run and speed the tempo of the game up, that should work in MU’s favor if they face off against St. Bonaventure.

Temple

2020-21 Record: 5-11, 4-10 AAC
2020-21 Final KenPom.com Rank: #143
2021-22 T-Rank Preseason Rank: #115
Head Coach: Aaron McKie, in his third season at Temple and overall as a Division 1 head coach
All-Time Series: Temple leads, 2-0

If you didn’t catch it already, yes, Temple is the only one of the seven possible opponents in this tournament that holds an all-time record advantage over Marquette. With that said, the two teams haven’t played since 1995, and the first meeting was waaaaaaaaaaaay back in 1939.

Temple’s move to the American Athletic Conference has not worked out well for them. After Fran Dunphy led the Owls to six straight NCAA tournaments in their last six seasons in the Atlantic 10, they have been to just two NCAA tournaments as a member of the AAC. They haven’t been bad, by the way, or at least they weren’t under Dunphy. They finished under .500 overall in just one of Dunphy’s AAC seasons and under .500 in league play in three of his six AAC campaigns. Things have gotten worse under Aaron McKie, in his two seasons in charge in Philadelphia. I’m sure that the Temple higher ups thought that McKie might be able to continue on with what Dunphy had been doing, as McKie was an assistant at Temple since 2014. That hasn’t happened, though, as the former Temple star and Philly native’s teams have gone just 19-28 in his two seasons and 10-22 in the AAC.

They do bring back their top four scorers from last season, or at least they’re projected to do so. That’s something, and maybe it’s a little unfair to judge McKie on a two year stint where one year was one non-conference game and 14 AAC games because of the pandemic. He did have Temple out to a 9-3 start in his first season, including two top 100 wins over USC and Davidson. Maybe after a weird pandemic year where he had to rely heavily on freshmen and sophomores, things are looking up for the Owls.

West Virginia

2020-21 Record: 19-10, 11-6 Big 12
2020-21 Final KenPom.com Rank: #23
2021-22 T-Rank Preseason Rank: #64
Head Coach: Bob Huggins, in his 15th season at West Virginia and 37th season as a Division 1 head coach
All-Time Series: Marquette leads, 7-4

Nope. Not spending time on it. Not going to put the effort in. Sure, I could think of you, the reader, and write about how the Mountaineers played this past season, how they shape up for next season, and how they play in general under head coach Bob Huggins.

However, I have been vocal in the past about never playing West Virginia ever again. I realize that Marquette doesn’t have a lot of control over who the Charleston Classic invites to their tournament, so this is what it is. But I watched Buzz Williams two-step to Country Roads in Morgantown after Marquette beat West Virginia, 61-60, behind an all-time great performance by Jae Crowder (26/4/1, two blocks, two steals, played all 40 minutes) with approximately half the team suspended for one half or the other. That was the last time that Marquette and West Virginia played each other, as the ‘Eers left for the Big 12 the following season. It’s a perfect bow on the series, and I don’t want to see it removed.