NCAA Tournament 1st Rd [South Region]: No. 13 Furman vs. No. 4 Virginia

Thursday March 16, 2023

No. 13 Furman (27-7) vs. No. 4 Virginia (25-7)

Amway Center (20,000), Orlando, FL., 12:40 p.m. EST (TRU TV)

Head Coaches: Furman–Bob Richey (138-53/6th yr)/Virginia–Tony Bennett (341-124/14th season at UVA)

Series: UVA Leads 1-0

Last Meeting: Dec. 8, 2004/UVA 79, Furman 67

Orlando, FL–Furman and Virginia meet for just the second time Thursday afternoon in the second game of the NCAA Tournament at the Amway Center.

The Paladins are making their first appearance in the tournament in 43 years, while Virginia is back after missing the 2021 tournament. Below is everything to get you ready for the matchup. Enjoy the Madness!

Pre-Selection Interview with JP Pegues

Bob Richey Interview Pre-Selection Show

Selection Show Press Conference:

JP Pegues, Mike Bothwell, Jalen Slawson and head coach Bob Richey

Furman Pre-Virginia Media Day Press Conference

Jalen Slawson, Mike Bothwell and head coach Bob Richey

Pre-NCAA Tournament Hype Video

Furman’s Foundational wins over the past seven seasons:

Feb. 26-Mar. 9, 2015—Furman starts an amazing close to the season, as it claimed a hard-fought win over Western Carolina (53-49) and fought hard before dropping a 62-60 game in the regular-season finale against the SoCon’s top team, Wofford. The Paladins would reel off three-straight wins before losing in the title game to that very same Terrier team. The 11-22 season was the spark to the current run off success. It was Medved’s second season in charge of the Paladin basketball program following a nine-win campaign in his inaugural campaign.

Jan. 9, 2016—A 70-55 win over preseason prohibitive and eventual league champion Chattanooga would be a harbinger of big wins to come in the future for Paladin basketball. The win snapped the Mocs’ eight-game winning streak, as Devin Sibley (18 pts) and Stephen Croone (17 pts) would be a major part of the win over the Mocs, as would Kendrec Ferrara, who came up big on the defensive end of the floor, as he finished with six blocks. The Mocs went on to win a program record 29 games and win the SoCon regular-season and tournament titles, respectively.

Jan. 23, 2016—With the backdrop of a pretty significant snowstorm by Greenville, S.C., standards, the Paladins came away with another major foundational moment. It was one of the most thrilling moments in the history of Timmons, as the venue played witness to its first Furman buzzer-beating effort in its 18 years of operation. Senior guard Stephen Croone tipped in a missed Devin Sibley driving layup attempt at the buzzer, and Furman ended its six-game losing streak to Wofford in thrilling fashion, with a 63-62 win over Southern Conference victory on Saturday afternoon in front of a rowdy crowd 2,252 fans at Timmons Arena. Croone had just two points in the opening half, but posted 15 in the second frame, with none more important than the final two, as Furman posted its first win over Wofford since Jan. 14, 2013, when the Paladins posted a 69-65 win over the Terriers at Timmons Arena.

Mar. 14, 2016 For the second time in the 2015-16 season, Furman sent an opponent away with a heartbreaking loss, as the Paladins claimed an unprecendented 14th home win in a, 58-57, win over Louisiana-Monroe on Daniel Fowler’s fade-a-way shot at the buzzer in the opening round of the Tournament Tuesday night at Timmons Arena. “It’s never happened before, I’ve never hit a buzzer-beater in my career,” Fowler said. “I saw the ball got tipped back out by Kris Acox and no one boxed me out and I really didn’t know how much time I had, and I just put up the shot and it went in and that’s pretty much it.” The appearance in the tournament marked the first non-conference postseason appearance since a trip to the CIT in 2010, and first postseason non-conference tournament win since defeating South Carolina in the opening round of the 1975 NCAA Tournament.

Nov. 16, 2016 Another breakthrough win for the Furman basketball program occurred early in the 2016-17 season when the Paladins went to the University of Alabama-Birmingham (UAB) and ended a 26-game homecourt winning streak, with an 84-74 win at Bartow win in the third game of the 2016-17 season. The game was part of the CBE Hall-of-Fame Classic.  Daniel Fowler had one of the best games of his career, posting a career-high 23 points, while grabbing seven rebounds and dished eight helpers in leading five Paladins in double figures.

Mar 17-29, 2017 Making its second postseason tournament appearance in a row, the Paladins had some unfinished business. Furman, which tied with both East Tennessee State and UNC Greensboro for the SoCon’s regular-season title, and headed to Asheville as the No. 2 seed in the SoCon Tournament. It would turn out to be a disappointing finish to their ultimate NCAA Tournament hopes, however, dropping a 67-63 contest to No. 7 Samford, despite a 30-point effort from SoCon Player of the Year Devin Sibley. However, the Paladins made accepted an invitation to the CIT for the second-straight season, knocking off USC Upstate (79-57), Campbell (79-64) before losing to eventual CIT champion St. Peter’s, (51-77) in the CIT Final Four. The win over Campbell would be Medved’s last game as the head coach of the Paladins, while the loss to the Peacocks would be the first under Richey. Richey would shed the interim tag the very next season. Furman’s 23 wins during the 2016-17 campaign tied a program record.

Feb. 25, 2018–Furman evened the series from its earlier season loss to East Tennessee State in Greenville by ending the Bucs chances at claiming a share of the regular-season Southern Conference title, with the Paladins taking home a 79-76 win in Freedom Hall.It was Furman’s first win over ETSU since it moved to its new facility during the 2013-14 season, and marked the first win for Furman in Johnson City since 2005. Though the Paladins failed to appear in the college basketball postseason, turning down a bid to the CIT after a disappointing setback to the same ETSU Bucs in the semifinals of the SoCon Tournament in a game that saw Furman post one of its most difficult shooting nights of the season. The 23 wins would tie a program record, marking the third time in the school’s history that it had won as many games, matching the 1979-80 Paladins and the 2016-17 team.

Nine days in November (Nov. 8-17)

Nov. 9, 2018–One of the biggest wins in the regular-season in Furman basketball history came early on during tIt must seem as no coincidence that Rafferty, Mounce, Lyons and Brown all had roles to play Friday, almost as if the 2016 win over UAB was a foreshadowing of how the events would unfold in the second game of the 2018-19 season. With time winding down, after all, it was Mounce who took the feed from Rafferty and flushed a one-handed tomahawk dunk off the left side with 1.6 seconds remaining to seal a special win for the Furman basketball program, and for the Southern Conference. The 2018-19 campaign, as the Paladins went to Loyola-Chicago and knocked off the reigning Final Four participant, 60-58, at Gentile Arena.

Nov. 15, 2018—Furman’s win over North Greenville was expected—a 107-67 thumping of Bob Richey’s alma mater.  Earlier in the 2018-19 season, Furman debuted its new video boards by honoring the first player in college basketball history at any level to score 100 points in a single game, which Frank Selvy accomplished on Feb. 13, 1954. Jordan Lyons would put his name in NCAA basketball lore with another amazing NCAA record performance.  A week earlier, Furman woke up nine-point underdogs to 2018 Final Four participant Loyola Chicago. A week later, the Paladins were off to a 4-0 start, with Sports Center top play on a game-winning dunk, an NCAA record-tying performance for three-pointers made in a single game, and had a player score the most points in an NCAA Division I college basketball game since 2009. All in a week’s work right? Jordan Lyons’ 15 three-point goals, which was part of a 54-point—the most points in a game since Jodie Meeks for Kentucky in 2009 vs. Tennessee—tied an NCAA single-game record, which was first set by Keith Veney in 1996 and had been tied just a night earlier by Robert Morris sharp-shooter Josh Williams.

Nov. 17, 2018—Furman got the attention of the entire college basketball world on Nov. 17, 2018, as the Paladins were able to knock off defending national champion and If Furman’s early win over Loyola-Chicago didn’t raise enough eyebrows around the nation, then surely its 76-68 overtime win at reigning national champion Villanova did the trick. This win was not only one of the biggest wins in the regular-season history of Furman basketball, ranking up there with wins over nationally-ranked Davidson (1963-64) and East Tennessee State (1990-91), it also kept the Paladins in NCAA Tournament conversations as an at-large bid for the remainder of the college basketball season, and would ultimately see the Paladins find their way into the Associated Press NCAA Top 25 a month later. It was also Furman’s first-ever win over a nationally-ranked program on the road.  Furman’s win over the defending national champions marked the second-straight season a team from the Southern Conference had defeated a reigning national champion, as the Wofford had defeated reigning national champion North Carolina on the road, 79-75, just a year earlier.

Furman’s Last Time in the Big Dance (1980)

Former Furman great Jonathan Moore (photo courtesy of Furman athletics)

It was the dawn of a new decade, and the Paladins were under the direction of a new leader as Eddie Holbrook was in his first season at the helm of the Furman program following his predecessor Joe Williams, which had just left to become the head coach of the Florida State Seminoles. 

Williams, who passes away this past Summer, remains the most successful coach in Furman basketball history. In fact, the decade of the 1970s was one of dominance for Paladin basketball, and no team dominated the Southern Conference hoops scene more in the 1970s than the Paladins and Davidson Wildcats, as that would emerge as a major rivalry during that particular decade. All six of Furman’s NCAA Tournament appearances were garnered from 1971-80.

Other than Furman’s current run, which has seen the Paladins win 180 games over the past eight seasons, the Paladins dominated during the decade of the 1970s, winning 211 games from the start of the 1969-70 season until the conclusion of the 1979-80 campaign. Much of that success, as he compiled a 142-87 record during his eight seasons leading the Paladin basketball program.  The Paladins are 1-6 all-time in the NCAA Tournament.

­­­­­­­Williams left the cupboard chocked full of talent when he left to become the Seminoles head coach following his highly successful tenure at Furman from 1970-78.

The Paladins played in Greensboro the last time they made into the NCAA Tournament, taking on the Tennessee Volunteers, dropping what was an 80-69 decision in what was a 32-team NCAA Tournament during those days. The Paladins were led on that 1980 team by the likes of Jonathan Moore and Mel Daniel. 

Putting it all in perspective, Furman’s last NCAA Tournament appearance came prior to Western Carolina’s Ronnie Carr connected on the first-ever long-range bomb in NCAA history the following November against Middle Tennessee State. The three-pointer is very likely what the Paladins will need to have a shot against the Cavaliers Thursday.

History and Tradition of the Two Programs:

The Paladins and Cavaliers will be facing each other on the college basketball hardwood for just the second time in series history, with the only other meeting seeing the Virginia Cavaliers capture what was a 79-67 win over the Paladins back on Dec. 4, 2004. In that contest, Gary Forbes ended up leading five Cavaliers players in double figures in that particular meeting, as he finished with 21 points, while J.R. Reynolds and Elton Brown added 18 and 16 points, respectively. Brown completed a double-double performance against the ‘Dins with 12 rebounds. Furman was led in the contest by Quan Prowell’s 14 points. 

Virginia has had plenty of success against Southern Conference foes all-time in its history, having posted a 112-15 mark against SoCon foes in its basketball history. Tony Bennett has never lost to a Southern Conference foe, having posted a 4-0 record in his 17 seasons as a college basketball coach against the league. As you might expect, the Cavaliers have faced off against VMI the most over the years, having posted a 101-15 all-time record against the Keydets. The Cavaliers have also faced off against ETSU (3-0), UNC Greensboro (2-0), The Citadel (2-0), Furman (1-0), Wofford (1-0), and Samford (1-0) during their basketball history. 

The Paladins are under the direction of head coach Bob Richey (138-53), who is in his sixth season at the helm of the Paladin basketball program, while the Cavaliers are led by Tony Bennett (341-124), who is in his 14thseason leading the Cavaliers’ basketball program. 

If any program knows how to turn adversity into triumph like Furman was able to do by winning the Southern Conference Tournament after losing on a 36-foot buzzer beater last season to the same opponent it defeated for the title this season—Chattanooga—it’s the Virginia Cavaliers. A year prior to claiming the 2019 NCAA national title, with an 85-77 win over Texas Tech in the championship game in Minneapolis, the Cavaliers joined the record books for all the wrong reasons a year earlier, as the Cavaliers became the first No. 1 seed to lose to a No. 16 seed, when the Cavaliers were soundly defeated, 74-54, by UMBC.

The Cavaliers have seemingly learned from that woeful defeat suffered back in the 2018 NCAA Tournament, turning that into a national title run a year later. After there was no 2020 NCAA Tournament, the Cavaliers headed into the 2020-21 season as the reigning national champions, however, finished off that campaign with an 18-7 record in a season that was shortened due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Cavaliers lost their opening round game to No. 13 seed Ohio, 62-58, in a Midwest Region opening round loss at Assembly Hall in Bloomington, IN.

In that game, Ben Vander Plas, a 6-8 forward that is now a star for the Cavaliers, scored a game-high 17 points for the Bobcats to lead the Mid-American Conference champions to the upset win. Vander Plas had been a big part of what has been another 20-win season for the Cavaliers this season, however, the Ohio transfer is currently sidelined with a broken hand.

The Cavaliers won 19 regular-season games in the 2021-22 season, which wasn’t good enough for an NCAA Tournament invite, however, the Cavaliers would win three games in the National Invitational Tournament (NIT), making a run all the way to the Elite Eight of that tournament, with wins at No. 3 seed Mississippi State (W, 60-57) as well as a win over North Texas (W, 71-69 OT) before finally running out of gas one game shy of advancing to the NIT Final Four and Madison Square Garden, as the Cavaliers suffered what was a 52-51 setback to St. Bonaventure. 

The Cavaliers finished the regular-season with a 23-6 record heading into the ACC Tournament as the No. 2 seed last weekend. Virginia advanced all the way to the ACC Championship game, knocking off both North Carolina (W, 68-59) and Clemson (W, 76-56) before running into a hot Duke (L, 49-59) team in the championship game. 

All time in the NCAA Tournament, the Cavaliers will be making their 25th appearance in the Big Dance, having posted a 35-23 record all-time in the tournament, which includes three Final Four appearances and the 2019 national title. 

Furman on the other hand, will be making its seventh appearance in the NCAA Tournament, having posted a 1-6 all-time record in the tournament. The Paladins’ lone NCAA Tournament came in 1974, as the Paladins were able to down South Carolina, 75-67, in Philadelphia, PA. The Paladins enter having lost its last four games in the NCAA Tournament, including an 80-69 loss to Tennessee in the opening round of the 1980 NCAA Tournament at the Greensboro Coliseum. 

Though the Paladins haven’t made an NCAA Tournament appearance in the past 43 years, they aren’t necessarily strangers to postseason basketball, having participated in the NIT (1991, 2019), Tournament (2011, ‘16 & ’17). The Paladins made it all the way to the semifinals of the 2017 Tournament, with current head coach Bob Richey coaching the final game of that tournament run in the semifinals against St. Peters, as Furman’s interim head coach following Niko Medved’s departure to become the new head coach of the Drake Bulldogs.

The Paladins would end up losing 77-51 to the Peacocks in Richey’s first game as the head coach, but he would be hired as the head coach that summer and went to work improving upon the foundation, which had been laid by Medved during his four-year stint. In Richey’s second season at the helm, which was the 2018-19 season, the Paladins got off to a school-record start to the season, starting 12-0, which included high-profile wins over defending national champion Villanova (W, 76-68 OT) and a win over reigning Final Four participant Loyola-Chicago (W, 60-58).

Furman would match its 25-win campaign of the 2018-19 season a year later, and that included winning a program record 15 Southern Conference games in the process. The Paladins were knocked out of the opening round of the SoCon Tournament, with a 77-68 loss to Wofford. Had the COVID-19 pandemic not canceled the college basketball postseason, there was a remote possibility that the Paladins could have been selected for NIT, as the Paladins finished with a NET ranking of No. 56.

The Paladins posted a 16-9 mark in the pandemic-shortened 2020-21 season, and once again bowed out of the Southern Conference Tournament early, playing just one game in Asheville before making an exit. The Paladins were 91-90 losers to VMI in overtime.

The 2021-22 season would once again see the Paladins post a 20-win campaign, marking their fourth in five seasons, as the Paladins finished with a 22-12 mark and once again just missed out on the NCAA or NIT Tournaments, losing on a 36-foot shot at the buzzer against David Jean-Baptiste and the No. 1 seeded Chattanooga Mocs in overtime, as the Paladins dropped a 64-63 contest.

Furman returned three starters, including a pair of all-conference performers and fifth-year seniors, and were able to use last season’s heartbreak as a stepping stone rather than a stumbling block, as the Paladins ended up winning all three games in Asheville at the Harrah’s Cherokee Center, downing Mercer (W, 73-58), Western Carolina (W, 83-80 OT) and Chattanooga (W, 88-79) in the championship to reach the NCAA Tournament.

The basketball history and tradition of the University of Virginia is rich, and is highlighted by some true legends of our sport, with one of the most notable–former head coach Terry Holland–having just passed away in the past month due to dementia. Holland truly coached some greats during his 16 years as the Cavaliers head coach, including guys like All-American center and perhaps the greatest Virginia Cavalier to ever play in Charlottesville, in 7-4 center Ralph Sampson.

Common Opponents

The Paladins and Cavaliers have one common opponent this season, with both having faced North Carolina State. The Paladins suffered one of their more decisive setbacks to any power six opponent in six seasons under Bob Richey, dropping what was a 92-73 contest at North Carolina State on Dec. 14. It was Furman’s worst loss to a power six opponent since Nov. 20, 2017, when the Paladins were beaten 92-63 by the No. 2 ranked Duke Blue Devils. The Cavaliers, meanwhile, faced that same NC State club back on Feb. 7, 2023, as the Cavaliers were 63-50 winners over the Wolfpack at John Paul Jones Arena. 

Head Coach Bob Richey vs. Power Six Foes (3-13):

Dec. 14, 2022 at NC State (L, 73-92)

Nov. 19, 2022 vs. South Carolina (W, 79-60/Shriners Children’s Charleston Classic)

Dec. 17, 2021 at Mississippi State (L, 66-69)

Dec. 14, 2021 at North Carolina (L, 61-74)

Nov. 12, 2021 at Louisville (W, 80-72/OT)

Dec. 9, 2020 at Cincinnati (L, 73-78)

Dec. 15, 2020 at Alabama (L, 80-83)

Dec. 5, 2019 at No. 13 Auburn (L, 78-81)

Nov. 19, 2019 at Alabama (L, 73-81)

**Mar. 20, 2019 vs. Wichita State (L, 70-76)

Dec. 21, 2018 at LSU (L, 57-75)

Nov. 17, 2018 at No. 8 Villanova (W, 76-68 OT)

Dec. 20, 2017 at No. 20 Tennessee (L, 61-66)

Nov. 20, 2017 at No. 1 Duke (L, 63-92)

Nov. 18., 2017 at Butler (L, 65-82)

Furman’s Personnel and Style of Play

The Paladins are a high octane offense and rank high nationally and are aesthetically one of the more pleasing offensive teams to watch in the country, and are almost a complete contrast to the style Virginia likes to play. The Paladins run a Princeton-style/motion offense on steroids, which is predicated on spacing the floor to create openings in the defense, making the floor more open and making the opposition more susceptible to passing lanes, as well as cutting lanes. 

 Furman enters the matchup ranking eighth in all of NCAA Division I college basketball in total assists per game (17.1 APG), as well as 11th in scoring offense (82.1 PPG), 19th in field goal percentage (48.3%), 19th in three-pointers made (324/9.5 PG) and 11th in effective three-point field goal percentage (56.4%). Furman is ranked 12th nationally in three-pointers attempted per game (27.5 PG/934 attempts in 34 games). 

The Paladins have four their five starters averaging in double figures, led by a pair of Super Seniors, in Mike Bothwell (18.0 PPG, 3.5 RPG) and Jalen Slawson (15.7 PPG, 7.1 RPG). Both were First Team All-Southern Conference selections, with Slawson also having garnered the SoCon Offensive Player of the Year honor. Bothwell is a pure scorer, needing just 10 points in Thursday’s game to become only the fifth player in school history to reach the 2,000-point plateau. The duo has also achieved a school-record 115 wins in their respective careers. 

He’s a pair of 30-point scoring efforts this season, as he went for a career-high 36 points in a 72-70 win over Stephen F. Austin back on Dec. 17 in the Greenville Winter Invitational. Bothwell also had 35 points in the regular-season finale against Samford, helping the Paladins to a 93-79 win on the road and helped clinch Furman’s first No. 1 seed in the Southern Conference Tournament since 1991. In addition to what Bothwell does as a scorer, the senior guard from Cleveland Heights, OH., also ranks 10th in program history in career assists and steals.

In addition to his 30-point scoring performances this season, Bothwell also has 12 games in which he has posted 20 or more points in a game this season, and was named the Lou Henson Mid-Major Player of the Week for his performance against Belmont back in November, as he posted 26 points in what was an 89-74 win. Bothwell is a threat from three-point range as well, having connected on 48-of-142 shots from three-point land this season, which accounts for a 33.8% clip from long-range this season. He actually shot the three much better during the Southern Conference season, as he was able to connect on a 36.2% clip (25-of-69) in 18 league games. 

Furman’s Jalen Slawson has been described by opposing coaches as a “point forward” for his ability to play all five different positions on the floor, and his ability to handle the ball at the point of the offense, making him an especially unique and difficult matchup for most foes he goes up against. Slawson is the 2023 Southern Conference Player of the Year and was the 2022 SoCon Defensive Player of the Year. In addition to his 15.7 points-per-game and 7.1 rebounds-per-game this season, the fifth-year senior from Summerville, S.C., also adds 3.2 assists-per-game this season and is an exceptional passer at all positions on the floor, and particularly out of the post. 

Like Bothwell, Slawson has established his own legacy as one of Furman men’s basketball all-time greats, as one of only three players in program history to have recorded 1,000 points, 600 rebounds, 200 assists and 100 blocked shots in a career, joining former Paladin greats George Singleton and Jonathan Moore in that distinct company. Slawson like his teammate Bothwell, is a finalist for the Lou Henson Award, which is given to the top player in mid-major basketball. Last season, former Chattanooga guard Malachi Smith claimed the prestigious award.

Additionally, Slawson is also a candidate for the Karl Malone Award, which is given to the nation’s top power forward. The super senior currently ranks third in program history with 180 blocked shots, while having posted 18 double-doubles in his Paladin career. 

Perhaps what makes Slawson the most dangerous, however, is his ability to shoot the three, as he has posted an impressive and team-leading 39.4% shooting clip (39-of-99) from three-point range so far this season. All told, Slawson is connecting on 55.6% (185-of-333) from the field this season. 

Interestingly, one of the more effective aspects of Furman’s efficient offense is the offensive aggression exhibited by the senior duo this season, as the duo leads the team in both free throws made, having made a combined 280 of the team’s 511 total made foul shots this season, and have shot 350 of the team’s 690 free throw attempts in the 2022-23 season. The combined 280-of-350 clip for Bothwell and Slawson at the line is an impressive combined 80.0% shooting percentage from the charity stripe this season. The Paladins are 20-0 this season when outscoring the opposition from the charity stripe. 

The third potent weapon in the well-equipped Furman offense is sophomore point guard JP Pegues (12.0 PPG, 3.8 RPG, 4.0 APG), who was recently named the SoCon’s Most Outstanding Performer in Furman’s three tournament wins in Asheville. Pegues has been one of the primary reasons the Paladins find themselves at this point in the season for the first time in 43 years, and he comes in having started all 34 games for the Paladins this season. 

He has scored in double figures in 15 of Furman’s last 16 games, including posting career-highs for both points (26) and rebounds (8) in a late-January, 96-82, road win at Wofford. Pegues also posted a career-high eight assists in Furman’s 92-73 setback at North Carolina State earlier this season. He averaged 21.0 PPG in Furman’s three SoCon Tournament game in Asheville en route to garnering tournament most outstanding player honors. He has scored 20 or more points six times this season, including having done so in three out of his last four games. 

In terms of the care he does take of the basketball, Pegues ranked second in the SoCon in assists/turnover ratio (2.3). He also shoots the three-ball well, shooting 35.0% (65-of-186) from long range this season. His 65 threes leads the Paladins this season.

The fourth player averaging in double figures among Furman’s starting five this season is junior wing guard Marcus Foster (10.6 PPG, 5.2 RPG). In many ways, Foster acts as Furman’s x-factor as well as being the team’s “glue guy.” His two three-pointers late in the SoCon championship game against Chattanooga were pivotal in helping the Paladins end their more than four-decade drought from the NCAA Tournament. 

Foster also ranks as one of Furman’s top three-point threats. Foster ranks second on the team in made three-pointers this season, having connected on 60 triples this season for the Paladins. He is connecting on 36.4% (60-of-165) from three-point land so far this season. The junior from Atlanta, GA., is also one of the Paladins’ best on-ball defenders.

Rounding out the starting five for the Paladins will be 6-9 center Garrett Hien (8.0 PPG, 4.1 RPG), who is very much an emotional leader for the Furman basketball team. He can also step out and shoot the three. Hien’s favorite spot has been the top of the key this season, is the top of the key and the corners, as he has hit a high percentage of his 26 made triples this season from each of those spots. He shooting a solid 36.6% (26-of-71) from long range so far this season. 

Furman’s top players off the bench include Carter Whitt (2.7 PPG, 1.7 RPG), who will spell Pegues at the point guard spot. Whitt is in his first season with the Paladins after transferring in from Wake Forest. He has seen his playing time increase, which coincided with Furman’s strong play down the stretch beginning with the win at Chattanooga. 

If there were a sixth man award in the Southern Conference, that would have surely gone to Alex Williams (6.2 PPG, 4.9 RPG). He’s powerful, and for his size, extremely nimble and agile. He has the ability to slash to the hoop, but his strength is shooting the ball from long range. He’s developed into a complete scorer for the Paladins this season, and has eight double-figure scoring efforts for the Paladins this season. 

Williams had 19 points in an early league win over The Citadel, while posting 18 and 15 points, respectively, off the bench in a pair of wins over Wofford. As a perimeter threat this season, Williams is shooting 35.4% (28-of-79) from three-point land. 

Rounding out Furman’s nine-man rotation this season are SoCon All-Freshman selection Ben VanderWal (5.1 PPG, 3.2 RPG), who brings both energy and scoring ability off the bench but is most noted for the work he does on the offensive glass, and 6-8 forward Tyrese Hughey (5.0 PPG, 2.3 RPG), who is athletic and has become one of the better defensive posts on the team when he can stay out of foul trouble.

Furman’s Team Strengths: 

The Paladins love to get the ball up and down and force tempo. One of the ways the Paladins are able to do that is following opponents made baskets, as the Paladins use long transition passes off the inbounds or off a quick outlet to get buckets in transition while the opposition is oftentimes still celebrating the made basket. 

The Paladins also love to space the floor and are good at it, and the more they are able to get their outside shots to go, the more they are able to space the floor and really put stress on the opposition defensively.

Furman’s Team Weaknesses:

The Paladins struggle at times defensively, and are allowing 71.2 PPG this season, and have at times struggled against teams that highly efficient shooting the three, and do not like playing games in the 50s or 60s, which is of course, exactly what the Cavaliers want to do. However, with Furman sporting the nation’s highest two-point field goal percentage, slowing the Cavaliers won’t completely stop them offensively by limiting their possessions, and it will by contrast put pressure on Virginia to continue to score efficiently. Furrman isn’t shooting near the efficiency that it did a year ago from three-point land, yet with every player on the roster possessing the ability to get hot on any given afternoon, they have potential to hit them. Still, it’s been more of a weakness than a strength this season when the Paladins are lured almost exclusively into shooting the three. Furman can also be a strange team, playing some of its best basketball and worst basketball all within one game. Lately, the Paladins have been prone to surrendering leads, doing so twice in the Southern Conference Tournament against both Western Carolina after leading by as much as 20 and in the championship against Chattanooga, however, went on to win both games.

Virginia’s Personnel and Style of Play: 

Virginia head coach Tony Bennett (photo courtesy of University of Virginia Athletics)

Virginia couldn’t be more of a contrast to what Furman than just about any team in NCAA basketball. The Cavaliers aren’t going to set the world on fire offensively, as the Wahoos rank 265th out of 359 teams in NCAA Division I basketball in scoring offensive, averaging 68.2 PPG this season. In terms of the Cavaliers’ team field goal percentage, the Cavaliers enter the matchup with the Paladins connecting on 44.9% (769-of-1711) of their shots from the field through 32 games this season, while having connected on 35.3% (218-of-617) from three-point land. The Cavaliers rank 163rd nationally in team field goal percentage, while ranking 112th in three-point field goal percentage.

One of the things that stands out is how good of care the Cavaliers take of the basketball, ranking first in the nation in assist/turnover ratio (1.85), while ranking 24th in assists-per-game (15.8 APG) and 17th in turnover margin (3.8).

Where Virginia really makes its money is on the defensive end of the floor, holding opponents to just 60.2 PPG this season to rank sixth nationally in scoring defense. In terms of limiting foes shooting percentage, the Cavaliers are holding foes to just 41.5% (324-of-433) from the field and 34.0% (224-of-659) from three-point land this season. The Cavaliers actually have surrendered six more three-point field goals than they have made this season. 

Needless to say that the Cavaliers want to slow the pace against everyone they play, having posted 109-2 mark under Bennett when holding foes to less than 50 points in a game, which includes a 3-0 mark this season. 

The Wahoos have forced 26 shot clock violations this season and have averaged 28 shot clock violations since the 2018-19 season. The Cavaliers have held 29 of their 32 opponents to less than 70 points this season, while holding 13 of its 32 foes to less than 60 points, having posted a 12-1 mark when holding a foe to less than 60 this season, with the lone loss coming in the ACC Championship game against Duke, which saw the Blue Devils post what was a 59-49 win over Virginia in the ACC Championship game. The Cavaliers have held seven of its past eight foes to less than 60 points, including all three in the ACC Tournament. The Cavaliers returned all five starters from that team that went 21-14 last season, which advanced all the way to the NIT Elite Eight.

The Cavaliers utilize a three-guard offense, led by double-figure scorers, in 5-10 graduate senior point guard Kihei Clark (10.9 PPG, 5.4 APG) and 6-4 senior wing guard Armaan Franklin (12.5 PPG, 4.2 RPG). The third guard in Virginia’s backcourt is 6-3 junior Reece Beekman (9.4 PPG, 5.3 APG), who is averaging right on the verge of double figures this season.

Clark is one of the most experienced point guards in all of college basketball, and he’s the ACC’s all-time wins leader this season (76) and is also the minutes leader (5,308). He was a member of that 2019 national championship team, and is UVA’s all-time leader in assists (713), wins (122), games (160) and starts (140) coming into the Cavaliers’ NCAA Tournament game against the Paladins.

He also ranks 14th in UVA’s program history in career scoring, having posted 1,431 points during his stellar career. His assists record is even more impressive, when you consider his 713 career helpers passed former record holder and one of the best playmakers at the position in ACC history, in former star point guard John Crotty (1988-91), who finished his career with 683 assists. 

Clark has 15 double-digit scoring performances in 32 games this season for the Cavaliers, scoring a season-high 20 points back on Jan. 18 in what was a 78-68 win over the Virginia Tech Hokies. 

In terms of being a three-point threat, Clark is a 35.6% shooter from long-range from three-point land this season, having knocked down 37-of-104 shots from long range this season, and is a career 35% (176-of-503) career shooter from beyond the arc. He was named Third-Team All-ACC and was selected as member the ACC’s All-Defensive Team. His 34 steals this season ranks him second on the team in thefts.

Franklin is UVA’s main scoring threat, leading the Cavaliers with six games with 20 or more points this season. He is shooting an impressive 37.8% (62-of-164) from three-point range this season. The native of Indianapolis, IN, spent his first two seasons as an Indiana Hoosier before coming to Charlottesville last season.

He posted a career-high 26 points earlier this season in a win over Baylor, while finished with his first-career double-double of 25 points and 10 rebounds in what was a 76-67 win on the road back on Jan. 21. Franklin also tallied 16 points in Virginia’s ACC Semifinal win over Clemson last week.

Rounding out the backcourt is Beekman, who has started all 31 games for the Cavaliers this season, and has 14 double-figure scoring performances this season. He is another steady, intelligent performer in the backcourt for the Cavaliers. Beekman is known as the best on-the-ball defender in the ACC, and was named the ACC Defensive Player of the Year as a result. He has 55 steals and has blocked 15 shots for Virginia this season. 

Late in the season in a win over Louisville, Beekman matched a season-high by dishing out 11 assists. In the ACC Tournament, he put in an especially strong effort in what was a 68-59 win over North Carolina in Virginia’s opening game of the ACC Tournament last week, as he tallied 15 points, dished out five assists, recorded five steals and grabbed three rebounds in what was a complete effort on both ends of the floor. 

Beekman has been a solid shooter from beyond the arc this season, however, he hasn’t shot a lot of threes in comparison to Clark and Franklin. Still, Beekman has managed a decent clip from long range, having connected on 35.5% (27-of-76) from long range this season. He’s started all 31 games he’s been available for this season. Beekman has shot 78.8% from the charity stripe (63-of-80) this season. 

In the paint, the Cavaliers will start both 6-6 forward Jayden Gardner (12.1 PPG, 5.8 RPG) and 7-1 Argentinian center Francisco Caffaro (2.0 PPG, 1.8 RPG). Gardner posted double-doubles vs. North Carolina (17 pts, 10 rebs) and Clemson (23 pts, 12 rebs), garnering ACC All-Tournament honors last week. Gardner is the most athletic player on Virginia’s roster, and he’s UVA’s version of a Jalen Slawson type player. 

Also like Furman’s Slawson, Gardner is in his fifth year of college basketball. However, unlike Slawson, not all five were spent in Charlottesville, with Gardner transferring into Virginia from East Carolina University prior to last season. He has 21 double-figure scoring performances this season, including three games in which he has posted 20 or more points in a game. During his time with the Pirates, Gardner posted a remarkable performance during his freshman season in Orlando, as he posted 35 points and grabbed 20 rebounds in a 76-65 loss at Central Florida. 

It will likely be Slawson at the four that matches up against Gardner defensively. Gardner was an Honorable Mention All-ACC performer this season, and like Slawson, was a member of the preseason Karl Malone Award Watch List, which is given to the top power forward in college basketball. He has registered five double-double performances this season, having done so against Michigan (12 pts, 11 rebs), at Virginia Tech (20 pts, 10 rebs), at North Carolina (19 pts, 12 rebs), vs North Carolina (17 pts, 10 rebs) and vs. Clemson (23 pts, 12 rebs). 

Rounding out the starting five is Caffaro, who is a 7-1 center by way of Santa Fe, Argentina. It’s been said that head coach Tony Bennett altered practice schedules during December so Caffaro could watch his native country and Lionel Messi win their first World Cup since 1986. Caffaro’s size will cause some obvious problems at the rim for the Paladins, presenting, if anything, a difficult obstacle to navigate around and past at the rim. Caffaro has only recently been inserted into Virginia’s starting rotation after Ben VanderPlas saw his season come to a premature end following a broken hand late in the season. 

Caffaro’s presence will be something the Paladins haven’t been all that accustomed to seeing in the Southern Conference this season, with only maybe Mercer and Chattanooga having comparable size comparisons on their respective rosters. 

The Cavaliers essentially utilize a nine-man rotation, with their top performer off the bench this season being 6-11 center Kadin Shedrick (5.9 PPG, 3.5 RPG). The redshirt junior and native of Holly Springs, N.C., turned in his most impressive performance of the season in an early-season win over Baylor, finishing with 17 points and three rebounds in that particular win. He was a perfect 6-for-6 from the field against the Bears. For the season, Shedrick is shooting a blistering 65.6% (61-of-93) from the field. 

Also providing minutes off the bench for the Cavaliers will be a trio of guards, which includes a pair of freshmen, in Isaac McKneely (6.6 PPG, 2.2 RPG) and Ryan Dunn (2.6 PPG, 2.9 RPG), as well as Auckland, New Zealand native and sophomore guard Taine Murray (1.4 PPG, 1.0 RPG).

Virginia’s Team Strengths:

Obviously, the main team strength for the Cavaliers has everything to do how they defend you on one end, while controlling pace and being highly efficient without turning the ball over on the other. When Virginia does those two things, its nearly unbeatable. Only seven of its 32 opponents this season have been able to turn it over single-digit times in a game. Meanwhile, the Cavaliers have only had nine games in which they have had a turnover total in double figures, including the last time out against Duke, as the Cavaliers finished the contest with 12 miscues, which allowed the Blue Devils to hold a slight 13-11 advantage in that category. 

Virginia’s Team Weaknesses:

If it’s not apparent already, Virginia is a team that doesn’t like to run and are not a transition team. They are highly efficient offensively, but have only scored 80 or more points twice this season, and the Cavaliers have not given up 80 points in a game this season. In fact, the last opponent to achieve that kind of success on the hardwood against the Cavaliers came on Dec. 26, 2020, when Gonzaga tallied 98 points in what was a 98-75 win over Virginia. As strange as it may sound, the Cavaliers under Bennett have at times been susceptible in tournament situations against mid-major teams that shoot the three ball well, as evidenced by the historic loss to UMBC in 2018, in which the Cavaliers dropped a 74-54 decision in what was the first-ever occurrence of a No. 16 seed defeating a No. 1 seed in an NCAA Tournament. The Retrievers connected on 50.0% (12-for-24) from three-point range in that particular contest. The Cavaliers limit their opposition’s points in the paint, which is a stat they win nearly every time they step on the floor, but if a team can knock down threes at a high rate, which oftentimes mid-major opposition can do because they have to in a situation where they are facing a power six foe.

How can Furman win?

There is an elixir to defeating Virginia, and it’s something that the Paladins have done well at times this season, but maybe not with the proficiency as they did a year ago, when the Paladins set a new Southern Conference single-season standard of 402 three-point field goals. The Paladins certainly showed that ability on the road at Samford in the regular-season finale en route to garnering the No. 1 overall seed in the SoCon Tournament for the first time since 1991, when the Paladins connected on 50% from three-point land in the 93-79 road win. The Paladins were an impressive 14-for-28 from three-point land in that particular contest. Furman also hit high volume numbers from three-point land in wins at East Tennessee State (11-of-27), at Mercer (10-of-16) and at VMI (17-of-45). It’s not a gimmick pick. Furman is talented enough to pull the upset here. The Paladins are 11-30 under head coach Bob Richey when scoring less than 70 points, so the best route to success would be to find a way to get to 70.

Other Teams in Furman and Virginia’s Bracket:

College of Charleston (31-3) vs. San Diego State (27-6), 3:05 EST

At least for Furman, the other side of the bracket will have some commonality to it, with another team from the Palmetto State participating in the other game, as College of Charleston takes on Mountain West member San Diego State in the other game in a battle between the No. 5 seeded Aztecs and No. 12 seeded Cougars. The Paladins took part in the Charleston Classic this season, playing both Penn State (L, 68-73), Old Dominion (L, 77-82) and South Carolina (W, 79-60). Part of the College of Charleston’s strong start was winning that tournament, downing Davidson (W, 89-66), Colorado State (W, 74-64) and Virginia Tech (W, 77-75) en route to winning their own tournament for the first time in CofC’s history. The Paladins played CofC in Pat Kelsey’s Cougars early in December during the 2021-22 season, with the Paladins coming from behind to beat the Cougars, 91-88, in overtime. During the pandemic season, Furman and Charleston played an impromptu contest back in Earl Grant’s final season before he left to become the head coach of the Boston College, as the Paladins and Cougars had to fill vacancies on their respective schedules due to cancellations due to positive COVID tests within the Richmond program, and Furman and CofC would schedule a meeting as a result at TD Arena. The Paladins played one of their best games during the pandemic shortened season and blasted CofC 81-57, knocking down 19 three-pointers en route to the win. Furman and San Diego State have never faced each other

Published by soconjohn

I am a lover of all things SoCon, and I have had a passion to write about, follow and tell the world about this great conference for pretty much my entire life. While I do love the SoCon, and live in the SoCon city, which is home to the Furman Paladins, have a passion for sports in general, with college football and college hoops topping the list.

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