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Five things to know about Virginia’s first round opponent Furman

Providing some critical background on the Paladins and how they matchup with UVA.

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: MAR 06 Southern Conference Championship - Chattanooga vs Furman Photo by John Byrum/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Virginia Cavaliers drew Furman as their NCAA Tournament first round opponent in a 4-13 seeding matchup. Just 18% of participants in ESPN’s Bracket Challenge picked the Paladins to upset the ‘Hoos. Are they justified with this pick? Before you decide, here are five things to know about Furman.

The Paladins won plenty of games down the stretch

Bob Richey’s squad accumulated a 9-3 record during the non-conference portion of the season. While losing a few games early in Southern Conference play, the Paladins finished the year as winners of 13 of their last 14, including a conference tournament title. Furman has an overall record of 27-7 heading into the Big Dance.

Keep in mind that they have zero wins over teams inside Torvik’s top 100. The Paladins played two tournament teams: a 73-68 loss to Penn State and a 93-72 loss to NC State. Of course, these games were early in the season and Furman is playing their best ball right now.

They are (sort of) comfortable playing at Virginia’s slow pace

If you look at Furman’s adjusted tempo, you will see that they rank 126th at an average of 68.5 offensive possessions per game. However, it is a little more complex than that. Their offensive and defensive philosophies are completely different.

The Paladins love to get out and run with the ball but have a tendency to drag out opponents’ possessions and force them into late shot clock situations. HoopMath defines transition as shots taken within the first ten seconds of a possession. According to this criteria, 31.3% of Furman’s initial field goal attempts come in transition, ranking 39th in the country. This is the case on just 21.7% of defensive possessions, ranking 343rd in Division 1.

Of course, Virginia usually dictates the tempo of the game because of their ball control offense and philosophy of choosing to get back on defense over guards aggressively pursuing an offensive rebound. It is just notable that the Paladins can take advantage of poor shot selection and live ball turnovers.

Jalen Slawson and Mike Bothwell each could have won SoCon Player of the Year

These two star players are the lifeblood of the Furman team. Slawson, who did win this honor, is a 6’7” wing forward who averaged 15.7 points and 3.2 assists per game. He is used often used as an on-ball screener and is a threat to both roll and pop, shooting over 39% from beyond the arc. Slawson is also an elite defensive player, placing in the 99th percentile in blocks and the 97th percentile in steals, according to Shot Quality.

Bothwell, not a shabby defensive player himself, is a smaller guard. Although he is pass-first, and quite a good distributor, he is averaging 18.0 points per game. Like Slawson, Bothwell is a fifth year player and has spent his entire career in a Furman uniform.

Furman’s four-out offense is predicated on spacing

According to Shot Quality, Furman spaces at the 24th best clip in the nation. Overall, they rank 31st in Torvik’s offensive efficiency metric.

Again, their statistical capsule may be somewhat deceiving. The Paladins rank first in the country with 59.1% two-point percentage. But this is a team that will do anything but hound you in the post. It starts with their guards and wings getting downhill and attacking the rim. Furman does this as well as anybody, and the pull-up midrange jumper is only occasional, yet efficient. Believe it or not though, this is a squad that shoots three-point shots at the 13th highest rate in the country. And they are only good and not great in that department.

It will be interesting to see how UVA employs help defense against the Paladins. The best course of action is to force kick out opportunities to the secondary pieces and make adjustments if they happen to get hot. Other than Slawson, there is not a knockdown shooter on the Furman roster. JP Pegues and/or Marcus Foster can get hot but neither have eye popping efficiencies. The most important thing is to avoid getting beat off the bounce, which is obviously easier said than done against this roster.

The Paladins are exploitable defensively

Okay, okay... deep breaths. Up to this point, I have probably left you petrified about this matchup. There is good news. Furman is 181st in Torvik’s defensive efficiency. And an offense with constant motion like Virginia can certainly wear them down.

Look for the ‘Hoos to utilize tons of basket cutting and curling, similar to what they have done against Clemson. Jayden Gardner is extremely hot so it is needless to say that Tony Bennett will emphasize getting him the ball in favorable situations. The Paladins are also Shot Quality’s 236th team in the country in defending the catch and shoot three point shot. I would not be surprised to see Armaan Franklin end up with the most field goal attempts on the team. Another thing to monitor is Isaac McKneely’s playing time. The way he boosts the offense and struggles on the defensive end will only be exacerbated by Furman.

The Cavaliers and Paladins will tip-off on TruTV on at 12:40 pm on Thursday. Kevin Harlan will be on the call, along with Dan Bonner and Stan Van Gundy.