LSU draws Wildcats in tourney opener

The Tigers and Northwestern are set to tangle in the first round of the Charleston Classic in November. The Wildcats are coming off a school-best 20-victory season and are projected to be a contender in the Big Ten Conference.

Not one to peek too far ahead, LSU basketball coach Trent Johnson is mostly focused on the Tigers' 2011-12 season opener against Nicholls State on Nov. 12.

Yet the news Wednesday that LSU will square off with Northwestern in November in the first round of the Charleston Classic was cause for some excitement for Johnson.

The Tigers and Wildcats will face off in the opening round of the three-day tournament, which also features VCU, Georgia Tech, Seton Hall, Tulsa, St. Joseph's and Western Kentucky.

Northwestern was 20-14 in 2010-11 and advanced to the quarterfinal round of the Posteason NIT. The Wildcats are coached by Bill Carmody, who gained prominence at Princeton before arriving in the Big Ten Conference in 2000-01.

The Wildcats' 20 victories last year were a school record and they broke into the national rankings for the first time since 1968. Northwestern led the Big Ten with 68.7 points a game.

"I have the utmost respect for Coach Carmody," Johnson said. "I know his approach to the game, how hard they play, how well they execute. I've played against Bill's teams twice when I was at Stanford. All I need to know is that they're a Big Ten opponent with a lot of veterans back who are battle-tested and well-coached. So I expect them to be a very good test for us by that point in the season."

The first of a handful of pre-SEC tests as it turns out.

Besides the road trip to Charleston right before Thanksgiving, the Tigers also have a road trips to Houston (Nov. 28), to New Jersey to face Rutgers (Dec. 3) in the SEC/Big East Challenge and Dec. 22 at North Texas, which handed LSU a 20-point setback last season.

Johnson said his goal is to have the Tigers involved in a pre-conference tournament as often as possible. They are being considered for a handful of events for 2012-13, including the Great Alaska Shootout and are penciled in to participate in the Old Spice Classic in Orlando, Fla., the following season.

The SEC/Big East event changes this season to include every SEC team on an annual basis, assuring LSU of a high-profile game every season.

"My philosophy is always going to be to have as strong as non-conference schedule as we can," Johnson said. "When you look at the teams we play, and the conference affiliations, I think we're going to do that the next few seasons."

The Charleston Classic will be played at Carolina First Arena on Nov. 17, 18 and 20.

LSU and Northwestern meet at 2 p.m. on Nov. 17, following the WKU-Tulsa game. The semifinals will be at noon and 2:30 p.m. on Nov. 18 and the final round on Sunday, Nov. 20. Selected games will be carried on ESPNU.

The Tigers and Wildcats have played three times but not since 1965.

Tickets for the event can be purchased tickets for $20 (single-game), $50 (three-sessions for LSU games only) or $90 (all 12 games) at www. CharlestonClassi.com or by calling the Carolina First Arena Box Office at (843) 953-2632.

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