With the season less than a month away, folks around Greenville, S.C. have plenty to talk about, with 11 of the top 12 scorers returning to the Furman Paladins basketball program.
Over the years, it’s been a constant theme in mid-major basketball — a team with talent and experience usually makes noise in March. That’s exactly what Furman has.
We’ve seen the likes of Gonzaga (2017), George Mason (2006), and Chattanooga (1997) make the most of strong NCAA Tournament runs with strong senior leadership over the years, and while certainly Furman has experience and talent, it most certainly has a lot to prove as well.
Is Furman good enough to cause the big boys problems in 2017-18?
It seems that way.
The Paladins nearly knocked off Michigan last season, dropping a 68-62 decision to the Sweet Sixteen participant. The Paladins got an impressive 84-74 win over Conference USA favorite UAB in the second game of the 2016-17 season, which came on the heels of a disappointing season-opening setback at Presbyterian. The win over the Blazers snapped a 26-game home-court winning streak for UAB.
On Saturday, fans will get a chance to see a glimpse of the potential that could be ahead for Furman and new head coach Bob Richey, as the Paladins will participate in the Purple-White scrimmage.
Furman enters the 2017-18 season coming off a school-record-tying 23-win campaign, including a trip to the semifinals of the CIT.
Daniel Fowler, Devin Sibley, John Davis III, and Geoff Beans combine to form a senior class that enters the season as one of the most successful in Furman basketball history. In the previous three seasons, the quartet has helped Furman to a 53-40 record.
The goal for Richey and his team will be the NCAA Tournament. If the Paladins can come through and win the Southern Conference Tournament, it would mark the first appearance in the Big Dance for the program since the 1979-80 season.
It’s been an interesting road for Richey. Just six years ago, he was hired by Niko Medved’s predecessor, Jeff Jackson, and was a part of a Furman program that was one of the worst in program history, winning just seven games.
After Jackson stepped down, Richey was the one assistant retained by the incoming Medved. That proved to be a shrewd move, and the Furman basketball program would reap the benefits of Richey’s recruiting prowess — namely the rising senior class.
Sibley, a native of Knoxville, Tenn, was named the Southern Conference Player of the Year last season. He will enter his final season in Greenville having scored 1,364 points so far in his career, good for 21st in school history in scoring.
The Paladins also have a healthy number of underclassmen that could be real difference makers this season, including RS sophomore forward Matt Rafferty, sophomore guard Jordan Lyons, RS freshman forward Clay Mounce and true freshman guard Alex Hunter.
Richey and the Paladins will face a new challenge, however, as they will be the hunted instead of the hunter.
The Paladins will have plenty of depth, and will play at a faster pace according to Richey, but it will be interesting to see how it all pans out. The SoCon is as unpredictable as ever, with teams like Wofford, Mercer, and Samford all expected to challenge for the top spot.
If anything, however, it may be depth that ultimately wins the day for the Paladins. Mounce has the potential to be one of the best newcomers in the SoCon with an inside-outside game that will make him a tough assignment for opponents. Hunter has the intelligence and shooting ability to immediately be a factor in the Paladin rotation.
Despite a tough non-conference slate, which includes trips to Butler, Duke, and Tennessee, expect Furman to have a chance at one of its best seasons in school history in 2017-18.