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It’s one of many multi-team events to come over the next couple of weekends, and while it features some good teams that will be playing in the NCAA Tournament come March, it’s not one that will draw a bunch of attention. That’s the one-sentence take on the Shriners Children’s Charleston Classic, which gets underway tomorrow with eight teams (WVU, Elon, Ole Miss, Marquette, St. Bonaventure, Temple, Boise State and Clemson) battling for the title.

That lack of attention, though, doesn’t make the event any less important, even for teams such as WVU, Ole Miss and Marquette, which garner some notice on the national scale. Those squads, with tough conference slates to battle through, need to pile up wins in the non-conference portion of the schedule to help with tournament resumes, so these events can often turn out to be difference-makers — not to mention the fact that they usually provide the first early-season tests from teams who are on equal footing.

“I think it helps your tournament resume,” WVU head coach Bob Huggins said from Charleston, South Carolina, where the Classic is being staged. “I think some of the people we have been able to play over the years have played really well. For instance, we beat Western Kentucky last year and that helped us. They had a heck of a year. St. Bonaventure is probably going to win their league. They are really a good team. Hopefully, we get to play them. This tournament might have as good a field as we’ve played in.

“I think you end up toughing it out in these tournaments. You have to be ready to play. In the NCAA Tournament you play two games in three days, so anything we can do, particularly with this team that hasn’t played in tournament settings, is good for us.”

WVU’s first opponent in the Classic, Elon, might not be quite on the level of a high major, but it is solid. It comes into Thursday’s 9 p.m. game against WVU with a 2-1 record. The Phoenix dropped their 2021-22 opener to Florida (74-61), then downed Randolph College (107-62) and Bluefield College (89-72), averaging 96 points in those two wins.

“We’ve watched two of their games, and when they get on a roll they make a lot of shots. They are really good if you give them step-in shots,” Huggins said. “If you give them a crack, they have a chance to make shots. You have to make the play a little faster than what they want and speed them up.

“Defensively they mix it up, they play a little 1-3-1, a little 2-3 and a little man, so that will be good for us.”

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While Huggins and his staff are still working through potential rotations and playing time, he acknowledges that several youngsters are in the mix – including first-year players.

“Before it’s all said and done we are going to play three or four freshmen,” the veteran coach shared. “We need to get them more playing time and get them to feeling more confident. They have been a lot more prepared to play.”

While Huggins did not name names, the candidates surely include guards Kobe Johnson and Seth Wilson. He was also likely including Isaiah Cottrell, who played in just 10 contests in last year’s non-eligibility counting season before suffering a season-ending Achilles injury. James Okonkwo, who has rapidly recovered, or at least figured out a way to play through, a broken bone in his foot, is still on the uncertain list as to whether or not he will play or redshirt this season.

For those who do get on the court this weekend, the experience they can jam into a packed four days is invaluable.

“We want to play. I think these tournaments have been really good for us over the years. You get a lot of experience, and you get to play a lot of guys. I like it. It has done a lot over the years to help us,” Huggins related.

“We want to win,” he continued with the obvious answer to a question about his goals in the event. “Because you are playing three games in four days you need to play more guys. We have some freshmen who are playing pretty well; we just haven’t had the opportunity to get them much playing time. We have so many new guys, we need to play. It’s one thing to go out there and do some drills in practice, but it’s another to play in front of people in the stands against someone you haven’t played against.”

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Veteran guard Sean McNeil has taken “just” 18 shots through two games – not an unreasonably low number, but also one far behind running mate Taz Sherman’s 38. He hasn’t forced any action, which is good, but he also needs to work to create more openings for himself.

“He’s playing against really good athletes now, and he’s getting a lot of attention. They don’t help off him at all,” Huggins said of one of the reasons for his lower shot total. “They don’t leave him. He just has to do a better job of using screens. I think he and Taz have carried us, but they are capable of much more.”

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