Furman’s gut-wrenching 66-62 loss to UNC-Greensboro last Sunday in the semifinals of the Southern Conference Tournament in Asheville, North Carolina, dashed hopes many fans had that the Paladins, despite a school-record 25 wins, would be competing in the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament for the first time since 1980. National media has continued to sing the praises of Furman and the SoCon, however, with the field of 68 set to be announced Sunday, March 17, beginning at 6 p.m.
ESPN analyst Jay Bilas has consistently ranked the Paladins among his top 68 teams in the country, and that didn’t change in his latest column published this week. Bilas writes “Furman is going to be an interesting case for the selection committee, as its win against Villanova back on Nov. 17 still looks very good on the resume.” He also notes the Paladins are in the top 10 in the nation with a 56.9% field goal percentage on 2-point baskets.
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CBS Sports focused on Furman in its “Court Report” this week under the headline “Making the case for Belmont, Furman, Lipscomb and UNC Greensboro to make the 2019 NCAA Tournament.” Matt Norlander points out that the Paladins have by far the best win of any of the four schools and also have the highest the NCAA Evaluation Tool (NET) ranking (41st, out 353 national teams).
Also on Wednesday, Chuck Culpepper of The Washington Post contrasted the SoCon Tournament in Asheville with the ACC Tournament in Charlotte, presenting the annual debate about whether the NCAA should reward outstanding mid-majors or average teams from major conferences when creating its tournament field. “In the Southern Conference, you might talk to a coach of a 25-7 team behind a baseline of an emptied court on a Sunday night after a semifinal in which a nine-point lead vanished in a sudden morass of clogged passing lanes and dried-up offense,” he writes about Furman. “You both might realize the probable and wrenching finality of this loss. You might say you saw the coach exit the court arm-in-arm with his 6-foot-8 senior leader, Matt Rafferty, while the coach’s little son hopped from behind in a futile attempt to pat the giant on the back. You might think you saw months and years of meaningful collaboration right there.”
Wofford clinches the league’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament by virtue of capturing the league tournament. The Southern Conference has never had more than one team in the NCAA Tournament.