With the announced return of John Shurna for his senior season in purple, the Wildcats are seriously contending for their first-ever NCAA tournament appearance this season. Even ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi agrees.
But teams like Ohio State and Wisconsin will likely stand in the way of an automatic berth, so the Wildcats will have to earn an at-large spot. To do that they need to build an impressive resume during the regular season.
We already know that Georgia Tech is coming to Welsh-Ryan next season, but a win against a bottom-tier ACC team will do nothing for Northwestern's resume.
Today we learned that the Wildcats will be playing in the 2011 Charleston Classic. Now in its fourth year, this four-day eight-team tourney won't provide much help either.
Just look at the field for 2011: Georgia Tech (89, 2010-11 KenPom rank; 13-18, 2010-11 overall record); LSU (227, 11-21); St. Joseph's (183, 11-22); Seton Hall (59, 13-18); Tulsa (90, 19-13); VCU (52; 28-12) and Western Kentucky (225, 16-16).
Obviously, Shaka Smart's VCU team stands out here, but these are not the same Rams that lost to Butler in the Final Four this past April. The VCU back-court, including the team's top four scorers, has been gutted in the offseason. Junior guard Bradford Burgess has a lot of slack to pick up.
Still, a win over this now-household VCU team would be the most quality win that Northwestern could take away from the Charleston Classic, by far. None of the other teams offer any sort of resume prestige that the Wildcats will need later in the season.
If they meet, Tulsa and Seton Hall may give Northwestern problems (the full schedule hasn't been released yet), especially returning SHU forward Herb Pope who pulled down a 20.5 percent DR% last season. A loss to either of those teams could be problematic come post-season time.
Northwestern is easily the favorite in this field, but how has that worked out for the past three Charleston Classic winners?
- In 2010 Georgetown beat Coastal Carolina, Wofford and NC State (a similarly weak field) to win the tournament. The Hoyas earned a No. 6 at-large seed in the NCAA tournament and finished 21-11.
- In 2009 Miami beat Tulane, UNC-Wilmington and South Carolina (weak again) to win the tournament. The Hurricanes didn't make the NCAA or the NIT tournament for only the second time under Frank Haith and finished 20-13.
- In 2008 Clemson beat Hofstra, TCU and Temple (Temple made the NCAA tournament that season as a 12-seed) to win the tournament. The Tigers earned an at-large No. 7 seeding in the NCAA tournament and finished 23-8.
So two of the three teams that won the Charleston Classic have appeared in the NCAA tournament in that same season. There's not much that can be said about that.
It will be interesting to see what other teams will round out the Wildcats' non-conference schedule. So far things really aren't coming together on that front.