2023 NCAA Tournament: Get To Know The Furman Paladins

2023 NCAA Tournament: Get To Know The Furman Paladins

Mountain West Basketball

2023 NCAA Tournament: Get To Know The Furman Paladins


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2023 NCAA Tournament: Get To Know The Furman Paladins

After surviving one upset bid, San Diego State will take on a Furman team that’s already notched one of their own. We learn more about the Paladins with help from Mid-Major Madness.

Contact/Follow @MattK_FS@MWCwire

Could the glass slipper fit the Paladins?

The San Diego State Aztecs began their NCAA tournament journey with a hard-fought win over the College of Charleston, but things won’t get much easier from in round two against the Furman Paladins.

After snapping one of college basketball’s longest Big Dance droughts by winning the Southern Conference, Furman gave the tournament’s first day an electric dose of madness by stealing victory away from the Virginia Cavaliers in the final seconds.

With a date against either Alabama or Maryland on the line, however, they certainly won’t rest long on their laurels. To learn more about what we may expect from Furman, we reached out to Nick Lorensen, who writes for SB Nation’s Mid-Major Madness.

Mountain West Wire: Before yesterday’s big upset of Virginia, it had been quite a while since Furman had made an appearance in the NCAA tournament. In a sentence or two, what do you think has been the season’s biggest driver of the Paladins’ first big breakthrough since 1980?

Nick Lorensen: It was experience through adversity. Last season, Furman lost in the SoCon title game on a half-court heave and it obviously took a huge toll on them. The core of their team this season, Jalen Slawson and Mike Bothwell, returned to Furman after testing the waters. So, they felt as if they had some unfinished business at hand. Not only winning the SoCon title but making the program’s first NCAA Tournament since 1980 and winning their first game since 1974.

MWW: Jalen Slawson certainly made his mark against the Cavaliers with a double-double, which probably shouldn’t be a surprise given that he was the Southern Conference’s player of the year. What is it about his game that makes him such an effective scoring threat?

NL: He is a high-level scorer and finisher around the rim. Every game, he seems to send in a huge dunk and he had one of those early on Thursday afternoon. It also helps that most of the team’s possessions run through him; he averaged over 30 minutes per game and is an elite turnover-creator on the defensive end.

MWW: By contrast, Mike Bothwell had a relatively quiet game against Virginia, but he can’t be overlooked as he, like Slawson, was recently named a Lou Henson Award finalist as the nation’s top mid-major player. What would you say is his main strength on the floor?

NL: Bothwell was more silenced because he had three fouls at halftime and it didn’t take long into the second half for him to pick up a fourth. Just like Slawson though, Both is an elite offensive player, ranking 59th in the country in offensive rating and 81st in true shooting percentage.

MWW: I noticed that, despite the victory, Virginia actually out-rebounded and hit more free throws than Furman in the first round. Which of those do you think could be the bigger concern if it comes down to another tight contest against San Diego State?

NL: The size, as mentioned. Nathan Mensah had a really nice game on Thursday, although it might not exactly reflect in the stat sheet. He owned the interior, especially in those opening minutes of the second half, picking up a couple of big defensive stops and holding the Cougars almost silent from inside. Furman only has one player over 6’8″.

MWW: Beyond picking things up on the boards and at the charity stripe, what’s the one thing Furman has to improve upon from round one and/or their season at large to have a serious chance at another upset?

NL: They’ve learned how to come from behind because there were times this season that they would fall behind early, almost sleepwalking, and expecting to win. For example, The Citadel game in Charleston in mid-February, which they lost. They showed on Thursday that if they fall behind and still keep it respectable enough, that they can fight back and make it a game.

MWW: Finally, San Diego State won’t take Furman lightly after their own first-round battle with College of Charleston. How do you think the game between the Paladins and Aztecs will go and who will earn a spot in the Sweet 16?

NL: San Diego State is playing some of the best basketball in the country right now and will be tough to stop. Personally, I don’t think that Furman has enough of size to keep up with the Aztecs, so give me SDSU in like a 60-48 kind of game.


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