Jamal Shead, Houston Cougars, Big 12 basketball

The Charleston Classic returns in 2023 for one of college basketball’s most anticipated MTEs in one of the nation’s best mid-sized cities.



  • Dayton (1-1)
  • Houston (3-0)
  • LSU (1-1)
  • North Texas (2-0)
  • St. John’s (1-1)
  • Towson (2-1)
  • Utah (2-0)
  • Wake Forest (1-1)

Tournament Schedule

First round (Thursday, Nov. 16)

  • St. John’s vs. North Texas – 1:30 p.m. (ESPNU)
  • Dayton vs. LSU – 4 p.m. (ESPN2)
  • Houston vs. Towson – 6:30 p.m. (ESPN2)
  • Utah vs. Wake Forest – 9:30 p.m. (ESPNU)

Semifinals (Friday, Nov. 17)

  • St. John’s/North Texas vs. Dayton/LSU – 2 p.m. (ESPN2)
  • Houston/Towson vs. Utah/Wake Forest – 4:30 p.m. (ESPN2)

Championship (Sunday, Nov. 19)

  • 8:30 p.m. (ESPN)

Team Breakdown

St. John’s

Rick Pitino is back in the big leagues, or at least the Big East. St. John’s has a completely different look than last year’s team after Pitino sent players portaling and grabbed their replacements from the portal. The Red Storm aren’t expected to contend for a league title this year but it seems unlikely for Pitino not to succeed at his (possibly last) stop.

St. John’s looked good offensively against Stony Brook, with Joel Soriano and Chris Ledlum both posting double-doubles, but Ledlum and the rest of the offense, save for Soriano, struggled against a very good Michigan defense. While that game likely says more about the capabilities of Michigan than the limitations of St. John’s, this week will be telling in terms of forecasting how Pitino’s first year with the team will go.

North Texas

The Mean Green doesn’t have Grant McCasland anymore, but they do have the nation’s second-longest win streak. They haven’t lost since the C-USA tournament semifinals against UAB in early March, after which they won the NIT. This year, they’ve started 2-0 under new coach Ross Hodge with a solid win over UNI and a home win against Omaha.

The guard trio of Aaron Scott, former Oklahoma Sooner C.J. Noland, and Rubin Jones all contribute in different ways, and senior Robert Allen is a monster on the boards. Through two games, the team is 11th nationally in 3PT%, but they’re one of the slowest-paced offenses in the country. Hodge had been on McCasland’s staff at UNT for years, so it’s not a surprise that his offensive philosophy mirrors the now-Texas Tech coach. 


Dayton might have their best chance to win the A-10 since the Obi Toppin year, and it’s in part due to DaRon Holmes II, an Atlantic 10 first-team selection in the preseason. The 6-10 forward 18.4 PPG and 8.1 RPG last year, and he put up a 17-7-6 stat line in the Flyers’ last game, a road loss to Northwestern. 

Nate Santos and Enoch Cheeks, two new transfers in the offseason, have also provided a boost in the first two games. Getting a Power 6 road game under their belt should benefit the Flyers in Charleston, and they have the potential to make a run. They’ll need to rely on more than just Holmes, however.


LSU is entering year two of the Matt McMahon era, and it hasn’t quite started out the way some would have hoped. A 106-point outing against MVSU was seemingly a good sign, even given the low-major status of the opponent. But the wheels loosened the next game against Nicholls State when the Colonels took a 44-20 lead before eventually winning on a last-second three. LSU shot 3-of-19 from deep and lost despite forcing 20 turnovers and drawing 22 fouls. 

The loss (via waiver denial) of boomerang transfer Jalen Cook stings, as the point guard depth immediately thinned. Trae Hannibal, freshman Mike Williams II, and Jalen Reed have all spent minutes at point, but the Tigers don’t have a clear answer yet at the 1 spot. Will Baker, the 7-footer from Nevada, has played really well but left the Nicholls game early with an injury. The Tigers have done a good job at getting to the line, but have struggled guarding the perimeter and crashing the glass. This week will be crucial for the Tigers as they try to figure out a permanent rotation and get back on the right page.


Houston lost some talent in the offseason, sure. Maybe Jarace Walker and Marcus Sasser are off to the NBA, and Tramon Mark left for Arkansas. That really doesn’t matter. This Houston team is a classic Kelvin Sampson Cougar squad with an elite defense and enough offense to beat the best teams. Baylor transfer LJ Cryer brings reliable perimeter shooting, and the rest of the team can defend like no other team in America. Houston is physical and they’ve imposed their will against UL-Monroe, Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, and Stetson, not once giving up more than 50 points.

Due to the nature of the game flow in the first three games, the team’s had 10 players average 14+ minutes per game, but they’ve rolled out the same starting five of Jamal Shead, LJ Cryer, Emanuel Sharp, J’Wan Roberts, and Ja’Vier Francis each game. Houston is averaging 20+ blocks+steals per game, (Hakeem) and is dominating the offensive glass. Damian Dunn, Mylik Wilson, and Terrance Arceneaux will continue to see extended minutes this week, and that trio has been performing quite well off the bench. 


Towson ranks over 40 spots below the next-lowest team in the field in the KenPom ratings, but make no mistake, they aren’t a bad team and could contend for the CAA this year. Freshman Tyler Tejada has been phenomenal through three games and leads the Tigers in points. The duo of Tejada and senior Charles Thompson might blossom into one of the best frontcourts in the CAA. The Tigers beat Coppin State handily, but they struggled to pull away from Robert Morris last time out. Towson stayed with Colorado for the first half on opening night, but was thoroughly run out of the gym in the second half. 

The Tigers are only averaging 7.7 APG so far this year, which places the team in the bottom 10 nationally in the category and behind nine individual player averages. If Towson wants a chance to beat high-major competition, they’ll have to perform better offensively than they have, while simultaneously going up against defenses such as Houston and/or Utah and Wake Forest. Dylan Williamson could be impactful coming off the bench in that aspect. 


The Utes are a very solid team, ranking 35th in the latest KenPom ratings and having handily beaten two low-majors. Washington transfer Cole Bajema has played well, leading the team in points through two games and shooting 54.5% from deep. Guard Rollie Worster has also played well, especially distributing the ball and forcing turnovers on the defensive end. Utah is a tall team, with three true centers (Lawson Lovering, Keba Keita, and Branden Carlson) playing extended minutes on the roster. As a result, (or maybe a result of the level of competition played so far) they rank 3rd nationally in defensive rebounds. 

Guard Gabe Madsen and forward Ben Carlson are two other names to watch for this weekend. Utah will face their first non-low-major opponents this week, and it will be a true litmus test of how good the Utes are right now. The team is old, (in a good way) and they could end up challenging in the top tier of the Pac-12 in its last year as a conference. This team feels markedly improved compared to last year’s squad that went 17-15. 

Wake Forest

Steve Forbes has quietly built a steady ACC program with Wake Forest. This year, they’ve got a nice core of Cameron Hildreth, Andrew Carr, and Hunter Sallis, even with Damari Monsanto still working back from an injury. The Demon Deacons dropped 101 on Elon but lost a close road matchup in Athens against Mike White’s Dawgs. 

They’ve got top-level size in both the backcourt and the frontcourt, with four of five starters standing between 6-4 and 7-1. The exception is Kevin Miller, the 6-foot guard transfer from Central Michigan who’s averaging 19.5 PPG through two games played. Currently, the Demon Deacons lead the nation in FT% with an 89.7% clip. Almost all of their offense will come from the quartet of Sallis, Hildreth, Carr, and Miller, who are combining for 79.0 PPG between the four of them. Big men Matthew Marsh and Marqus Marion are capable rebounders, however, and have shown flashes on the defensive end. This is a team with a pretty high floor, but the ceiling isn’t quite known yet. This week will show a lot about this Wake Forest squad. 

Charleston Classic Predictions

First round: St. John’s vs. North Texas

This should be a good matchup, with a good offense (St. John’s) against a good defense (North Texas). The two teams are both led by new coaches, although Hodge has been in the North Texas program for years. The advantage may lie behind the arc, however. North Texas is currently 11th nationally in 3P%, while St. John’s ranks 280th in opponent 3P%.

It’s a small sample size, yes, but the Red Storm looked very vulnerable against Michigan, allowing the Wolverine starters to make 10 shots from deep. North Texas could have similar success in Charleston if Aaron Scott and Rubin Jones heat up at the right time. Joel Soriano is very good, but he might not be enough to lead the Red Storm to victory against the typically stout defense of the Mean Green.

North Texas wins

First round: Dayton vs. LSU

Who stops DaRon Holmes II on the LSU defense? Is it Will Baker? Is Will Baker healthy after leaving in the loss to Nicholls? If Mwani Wilkinson, Jalen Reed, Daimion Collins, and the defense stepd up, what about the offense? Putting up 66 against Nicholls doesn’t bode well for a good performance against one of the best defenses in the A-10. Dayton has multiple offensive weapons that can score in addition to the aforementioned trio of Santos, Holmes II, and Cheeks, those being Koby Brea and Javon Bennett, who have combined to average 19.0 PPG so far. 

Dayton has already hit the road once this season in a hostile environment, while LSU has played .500 basketball from the comfort of their home arena. How well will LSU respond to an embarrassing loss? It might light a fire under their players, or it could bring the locker room vibes down. Whichever it may be, the Tigers are going to need to bring their A-game against this group of Charleston Classic competitors. Dayton might be too much for LSU, and Holmes II will be the best player on the court Thursday.

Dayton wins

First round: Houston vs. Towson

With all due respect to the Tigers, Houston’s defense is the best in the nation, and the offense is good enough to score 70+ on almost any opponent. That’ll be the case against Towson, who doesn’t have the firepower to stay with the Cougs for 40 minutes. 

LJ Cryer and Damian Dunn are too much for Towson to handle when Houston’s got the ball, and while Tyler Tejada and Charles Thompson will ball out in the CAA, it’s a bit different going up against J’Wan Roberts and Ja’Vier Francis. This game very well could look like the first three games on Houston’s schedule once the clock runs out. 

Houston wins

First round: Utah vs. Wake Forest

This matchup will sneakily be a very good game, as both Wake Forest and Utah have realistic NCAA tournament goals this season. Wake Forest, however, has the size to negate the typical Utah height advantage. Will Utah have answers for the four-headed monster that is the Demon Deacon offense? Wake has already traveled into SEC country and battled a Power 6 opponent, while Utah will be facing its first real competition of the season.

If Utah starts slow, the Wake Forest offense may be too much to come back from. However, Utah does have Madsen and Bajema in the backcourt, and they could very well make this game a tossup. Colorado transfer Lawson Lovering should make an impact for the Utes in this one as well. This game will be close, but Wake Forest most likely will have enough in the tank to pull out a victory. 

Wake Forest wins

Semifinals: North Texas vs. Dayton

DaRon Holmes II, similar to the first round, will be the difference-maker in this matchup. North Texas did lose 3 double-digit scorers from last year’s NIT championship team, and they’re still in the process of breaking in new coach Hodge. These are both two very good mid-majors, but Dayton figures to have the advantage in this one. 

Even with Toumani Camara and Mustapha Amzil departing in the offseason, this Flyer team has the most talent in the A-10, and the most talented player in the conference. If North Texas can heat up from behind the arc, something the Dayton defense could easily allow, the Mean Green have a good chance of making the finals. Ultimately, however, DaRon Holmes is the advantage the Flyers needed in this game. 

Dayton wins

Semifinals: Houston vs. Wake Forest

Wake is a quality team, and this will be Houston’s first Power 6 matchup of the new season. With that said, Houston has the defensive pieces to stop all four of Wake Forest’s primary offensive threats, along with a proficient offense. KenPom’s 123rd-ranked defense (Wake) won’t have an answer for the 11th-ranked offense, (Houston) while the Cougars will make a statement in a dominant win.

There is a chance that Wake Forest could possibly emerge victorious, but it would take the offensive performance of a lifetime against one of the best defenses (the best defense, according to KenPom) in the country. Wake Forest is good, but Houston is elite.

Houston wins

Championship: Houston vs. Dayton

For the second straight year, a Cougar team will win the Charleston Classic. This year, it’s Houston. They’re simply a step above this year’s competition in the tournament, and they’ve got a defense good enough to stop maybe every team in college basketball. Against Dayton, that will still ring true. DaRon Holmes II can be stopped by the elite frontcourt defensive duo of J’Wan Roberts and Ja’Vier Francis, and Jamal Shead is capable of locking up any Flyer lead guard. 

On the offensive side for Houston, LJ Cryer has been spectacular, just as he was with Baylor. Emanuel Sharp and the rest of the Houston backcourt are too loaded for Dayton to properly match up with, and Houston has the coaching, roster, and size advantage. All that on a neutral court, and the Cougars very well might win all three games by double digits. 

Houston wins

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