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After an unprecedented 2020-2021 basketball season, we finally made it to March. Conferences are starting to begin their post regular season tournaments. These tournaments play a major role in the seeding of the NCAA Tournament, and many teams’ performances in these tournaments will determine their appearance in March Madness. While it is fair to say that this entire season has been madness, it is about to get even more interesting.
The Southern Conference is the oldest conference postseason tournament in the country which makes its continuation monumental, especially during a pandemic. The SoCon Tournament faces a difficulty that many other Mid-Major leagues experience: only one team gets to advance to the NCAA Tournament. Although the SoCon is an extremely competitive conference top-to-bottom, it doesn't get any at-large bids. The Furman Paladins have finished third in the regular season with a record of 16-8 (10-5 in conference). With multiple games postponed due to the conditions of other teams, the Paladins have faced the challenge to find consistency in play. Although some have found disappointment in the Paladins finishing third, there is certainly an argument that Furman’s placement in the league tournament grants them the clearest road to the championship.
On Friday, Mar. 5, teams ranking 10-7 will face each other while teams 6-1 get a bye from the first night of play. Furman begins against 6 seed VMI for a rematch from the regular season. VMI upset Furman early into the season and then postponed the following game twice, making VMI one of the few teams Furman has only played once. VMI endured covid issues multiple times throughout the season and finished 12-11 (7-7 in conference).
Below is The Paladin’s Prediction:
SoCon Quarterfinal- Furman v. VMI
The Keydets are a dark horse that Furman has already fallen to once. However, Furman is eager for the revenge match. Furman has more depth than VMI and will need to show it; the Keydets are hungry to sweep the Paladins. Conversely, this is a good starting matchup for Furman who has been building depth on the bench and gaining consistency with its starters. Players like Lawrence, Kenney, and Foster have grown into strong forces to assist the veteran starters. If all five starters are having a good night, the Paladins can beat anyone in conference.
SoCon SemiFinal- Furman v. Wofford
Furman was narrowly defeated by the Terriers last time they met. The matchup was highly contested until the last 7 seconds when Wofford landed a final basket to gain the lead by one point. However, Wofford has a more difficult path and a stronger opening opponent with Mercer being the likely first matchup. The Terriers are a strong ball club with Storm Murphy leading the charge, but the Paladins can certainly pull off the win should Wofford make it past their first game. When Storm Murphy is held to a low scoring column, the team slows down, and Furman will need to capitalize on this while protecting the basket from quick layups which seemed to play a major role in Wofford’s victory. Furman is the more veteran and experienced team and the Paladins will need to show it against a younger Wofford.
SoCon Championship- Furman v. UNCG
Furman and UNCG split during the regular season in back-to-back games. Furman first handedly beat the Spartins 49-68. UNCG retaliated with a 64-58 victory over the Paladins. It is clear that both teams have improved since their last matchup, but Bob Richey’s efforts, over the season, to build depth and find the right lineups will shine against teams like UNCG. This is not the same Furman who has one starter shine on different nights. Hunter and Bothwell have found their stride in putting numbers on the board. Slawson and Gurley are going to be major forces in these matchups as well.
The team that plays the most consistent for the 3-4 days in Asheville will end up on top. If Furman’s starters prove they can all show up each night, and the bench can support these starters, then expect to see Furman dancing Far. Furman hasn’t won the SoCon Tournament in over 40 years and is overdue on a trip to see the NCAA Tournament. Now, it’s time for the Paladins to prove themselves. This team has been constructed to be better together, and this post season tournament will be the test. No matter what happens, the tournament will be competitive on every level.