By: Jack O’Keefe
Spread: Furman -14.5
2:00 pm Central – McAlister Field House, Charleston, SC
Furman Paladins (8-3, 2-0)
I wrote a preview on these Paladins about a month ago, and I have to say I am not as confident in what I see from them now as I did last month. Following their 5-point defeat to the Bearcats of Cincinnati, the Paladins won against non-Division-I opponent, Flagler Saints, but then dropped two games in a row with a losing effort against Alabama and Winthrop. Losing to Alabama by 3 points on the road, not the end of the world. Losing to Winthrop by sixteen points on the road? Probable cause for concern. The Paladins are 2-0 in conference play, with a 4-point win over Chattanooga and a 3-point win over Mercer. A win is a win, but I really thought they would defeat each time by a wider margin (as did the odd makers). Against the spread, the Paladins are a shaky 2-4 in their last six games this season. Perhaps a matchup with the potentially inflated Bulldogs will be an opportunity for the Paladins to pick up a cover for the first time in almost a month.
Mike Bothwell continues to be the “do-it-all” guy for the Paladins this season, as he is averaging 17.7 points per game, 5.5 rebounds per game and 3.9 assists per game. Noah Gurley and Clay Mounce have been nice secondary scoring options for Furman this season as well. Gurley is averaging 15.2 points per game and Mounce is averaging 15.0 points per game for the Paladins. The Paladins are extremely efficient offensively, shooting 50.9% from the field this season (8th in Division-I). They are still shooting a ton of three-point shots per game this season (27.6; 21st in Division-I), but as long as they continue to make them at a high rate, all is well (38.5% from beyond the arc; 28th in Division-I). Growing more size in the post does not happen overnight, which I indicated as a weakness of this team last month. The Paladins are only grabbing 31.9 rebounds per game this season (290th in Division-I). The Paladins are such a sneaky dark horse team to take to win a game in the NCAA Tournament; however, it all depends on who they get matched up with. If it is a team that likes to play “bully ball” grind you in the post type of game, forget about it. If it is a team built similar to Furman, lacking size but can shoot the basketball, the Paladins might have a chance of an upset. First things first though, take care of business in the Southern Conference, and then let the chips fall where they may from there.
The Citadel Bulldogs (8-0, 2-0)
First, I would like to give a warm thank you to all the men and women cadets who serve our country. You all are the true winners each day. For those who may be unaware, The Citadel is a public senior military college that also enrolls civilian students. Fellow Southern Conference member, Virginia Military Institute, is a public senior military college with no civilian students. The Citadel Bulldogs are one of four schools playing Division-I basketball at the time of the inception of the NCAA Tournament who has never actually made the NCAA Tournament. Alongside the Bulldogs on this list includes: Army, St. Francis (NY) and William & Mary. The Bulldogs have yet to finish a season over .500 since 2009-10 when they finished the year 16-16. It may be premature to start celebrating only after eight wins in a season, four of which were against non-Division-I opponents, but there is room for optimism if you are a Bulldog fan.
Hayden Brown, a senior forward, is putting up gaudy numbers this season for the Bulldogs. Brown is averaging 23.4 points per game, 10.7 rebounds per game and 2.7 assists per game this season. Fellow senior and South Carolinian, Kaiden Rice, has also been a tremendous factor on the offensive side of the ball for The Citadel. Rice is averaging 18.9 points per game this season, which is remarkable that an average of that many points is the second leading scorer on the team. To no surprise, the Bulldogs are one of the top offensive teams in the country this season averaging 88.8 points per game (4th in Division-I). The Bulldogs will torch you from beyond the arc and at the free-throw line if you let them. As a team, The Citadel is shooting 40.5% from downtown (9th in Division-I) and 75% from the charity stripe (49th in Division-I). So why do you have a hard time putting in stock for a team that blisters the opponent with scoring frenzies each game? The opponent is just as effective getting buckets, that is why. The Bulldogs are allowing 82.0 points per game this season (325th in Division-I) and teams are attempting an absurd 64.8 field goal attempts per game (333rd in Division-I). The Citadel lacks the interior size in the post to keep teams off the glass as well. The Bulldogs are allowing 25.2 defensive rebounds per game (237th in Division-I). Can The Citadel simply run off opponents with their sharp shooting and non-existent defense? Maybe. The Bulldogs were 6-point underdogs this weekend against the Chattanooga Mocs and they pulled off the win 92-87. In the college basketball season where the theme is “expect the unexpected”, I hope the Cinderella season continues for the Bulldogs. They have certainly waited patiently for the chance at an NCAA Tournament bid!
The Furman Paladins have an 8-3 record, which is impressive, but it is sort of like looking at an iceberg above water. What I mean when I say that is they appear one way on the surface, but when you look below the water, you see a totally different picture. I think Furman is a solid team, I really do, but I simply have a hard time putting stock in a team that has a tough time covering the spread in their games. The Paladins have covered only twice in their last six games, and they have only defeated their fellow Southern Conference opponents (Mercer and Chattanooga) by a combined seven points. On the contrary, The Citadel might not be getting as much respect as they deserve by the odd makers yet. The Bulldogs have covered in all four of their games played this season, and they picked up a win last Saturday as a six-point underdog to Chattanooga. I do not want to oversimplify the process, but if Chattanooga lost by four points to Furman and five points to The Citadel, perhaps that might mean, dare I say it, the two teams are pretty even? 14.5 points is an abundance of points for a team to cover, so I will take The Citadel +14.5 points for my best bet.
Jack’s 2020 CBB picks: (11-13)