Fall in the Holy City means the return of the annual Charleston Classic. Now in its 13th year, the early season tournament will run Nov. 18, 19 and 21 and will feature Boise State, Clemson, Elon, Marquette, Ole Miss, St. Bonaventure, Temple and West Virginia.
Twelve games will be played at College of Charleston’s TD Arena, which will welcome fans back to the event for the first time since the 2019 tournament. Tickets are still available and can be purchased online or by calling the College of Charleston ticket office (843-953-COFC ).
The field is strong across the board, said longtime ESPN announcer and analyst Debbie Antonelli, a Mount Pleasant resident who will call the tournament for the third time. This year’s competitors include former Classic winners Clemson and Temple. Early season tournaments are notoriously difficult to predict, she said, adding that she was excited that TD Arena would be filled with fans after a too-long period of quiet, empty arenas.
“It is going to be awesome to have the fans back,” she said. “Giving the fans coming to Charleston a chance to enjoy our beautiful city, it’s a real treat. That’s what makes a tournament like this really fun.”
Although the College of Charleston Cougars are not among the teams in this year’s field, new College of Charleston head coach Pat Kelsey said he was looking forward to the tournament, calling it “a great showcase of our city.”
“People get to see what we’re all about,” Kelsey said. “So many people that have been a part of that tournament, they’re blown away.”
A new sponsor
Moreover, having the Shriners Hospitals for Children as a new philanthropic title sponsor for the next four years adds a special element to proceedings.
“That’s bigger than the game and gives you a different perspective,” Antonelli said.
Shriners Hospitals for Children is the health care system arm of Shriners International, a Masonic fraternity with nearly 200,000 members around the world. Founded in 1922, Shriners Hospitals boast a handful of public facilities across North America, including a hospital in Greenville, that specialize in pediatric orthopedic conditions, burns, spinal cord injuries, and cleft lip and palate treatments.
This year’s competitors
The slate of teams includes five who played in the postseason last year: West Virginia, Clemson and St. Bonaventure played in the NCAA Tournament, while Boise State and Ole Miss played in the NIT.
St. Bonaventure’s Bonnies, which Antonelli said was ESPN’s “team to beat” for the Classic, return all five starters from a team that won the Atlantic-10 conference regular season title, as well as its postseason tournament.
“St. Bonaventure will be really tough to deal with with all their experience coming back,” said Antonelli, who has been calling games for 34 years. “Teams like that, that have everyone coming back and have learned from that experience, I can’t wait to see what they look like in November based on what I saw in March.”
At the bottom of the bracket, West Virginia, which secured a No. 3 seed in the 2021 NCAA tournament, also caught Antonelli’s eye.
“West Virginia will be very big and physical and a typical Bob Huggins team: Really good at the point of pressure, really good at protecting the rim,” she said. “They build their defense from the middle out, and that makes them really tough every year.”
Great start to a season of college hoops
With TD Arena as the venue and downtown Charleston as the backdrop, always providing the opportunity for a Bill Murray or Darius Rucker sighting, there could be no better way to ring in the start of the college basketball season, Antonelli said.
“I don’t know where you can find a better setting for this event. You have so many things you can do and see, it makes it really fun for fans,” she said.
“Right away we’re going to have great basketball in November. It’s a full week of hoops and it’s going to be a lot of fun.”
ESPN’s line on the teams
St. Bonaventure – ESPN’s “team to beat” for the tournament returned all five starters from last year’s conference winning squad, including Kyle Lofton (14.4 PPG, 5.5 APG, 1.4 SPG last season) and Osun Osunniyi, the Atlantic 10’s reigning defensive player of the year.
West Virginia – After earning a No. 3 seed in the 2021 NCAA Tournament, Bob Huggins’s team will rely on new point guard and Old Dominion transfer Malik Curry (15.7 PPG last season).
Marquette – The Golden Eagles will be led by new head coach Shaka Smart (of VCU’s memorable Final Four Run), who finished with a 109-86 record at Texas, earning a No. 3 seed in the 2021 NCAA Tournament.
Clemson – The Tigers look to build off a 16-8 record last season, as well as its first NCAA tournament appearance since 2018.
Boise State – After a disappointing loss in the 2021 NIT, the Broncos were picked to finish fourth in the Mountain West Conference’s basketball preseason poll.
Ole Miss – Another 2021 NIT contender, Ole Miss brings a well-rounded recruiting class to a team that finished sixth in the competitive Southeastern Conference.
Temple – Winners of the 2017 Charleston Classic, the Owls and head coach Aaron McKie return a strong roster for the 2022 season.
Elon – Following an impressive run to the Colonial Athletic Association championship last season, the Phoenix aim to improve on their 10-9 record and make another shot at the Big Dance.