After capturing a share of another ACC regular-season crown and a run to the ACC championship game, Virginia earned a No. 4 seed in the South Region of the NCAA Tournament. The Cavaliers will head to Orlando, Florida, where they will play No. 13 seed Furman on Thursday at Amway Center. Virginia is back in the NCAA Tournament field after a brief hiatus and NIT trip a season ago, though Hoos fans might feel a bit nervous about another 4-13 matchup. The last time Virginia was a 4 seed, it lost in the opening round to Ohio in a game played in Bloomington, Indiana. Virginia’s opponent this year, the Furman Paladins, might be even better than that Ohio team, especially on offense. They’ll push the Cavaliers on Thursday.

Here’s a deeper look at the Furman Paladins, and a deep dive into how far the Cavaliers will go in the NCAA Tournament.

Scouting the Furman Paladinsย 

Overall: 27-7, Southern Conference champions

Furman won the Southern Conference tournament, securing an automatic bid for its 1st NCAA Tournament appearance this century. The Paladins are led by a tremendous young coach in Bob Richey, who has won 72% of his games in his 6 seasons at the helm in Greenville, South Carolina. Richey’s sustained success had not, until now, led to a NCAA Tournament berth.

The Paladins played for a NCAA Tournament bid twice previously under Richey, but broke through this year when they avenged last year’s loss to Chattanooga to clinch the program’s 1st bid since 1980.

Top Player: Jalen Slawson, Forward

A 2-time all-conference selection and the 2021-22 Southern Conference Defensive Player of the Year, Slawson does everything for the Paladins. Slawson can guard your best guy on the block or on the perimeter. He averages 15.7 points per game, 7.1 rebounds, 3.2 assists, and 1.6 blocks. He’s also as close as you get to a mid-major star in the elite Steph Curry 50-40-90 (FG%-3P%-FT%) club, with his line being 55-39.4-86%. You can’t key on Slawson, either, because guard Mike Bothwell (18 ppg) is a bucket who makes defenses pick their poison.

What the Paladins do best is: Score.ย 

Furman ranks 33rd in the country in KenPom Offensive Efficiency, fantastic numbers for a mid-major program. The Paladins are the best team in the country at shots within the arc, shooting 59.1% from 2-point range this season. Richey runs some of the nation’s best, modern offense.

Furman’s 5-out scheme relies on a number of cuts and constant off-ball screening, all things which will test Virginia’s packline defense.

Best Win: UNC Greensboro, Jan. 29.ย 

Furman doesn’t have a Quad 1 win, though it played Big Ten tournament finalist Penn State within 5 at the Charleston Classic during November. The Paladins have beaten UNC Greensboro, a likely NIT team, and have out-of-conference wins against sound programs like Stephen F. Austin and Belmont. Richey complained at the Charleston Classic that his program’s consistency has made it difficult to schedule, and that might be a reason for the Paladins’ lack of big-time nonconference wins.

Most Important thing to know about Furman:ย 

Richey might be coaching his final games in Greenville. A hot commodity in coaching circles because of his offensive mind, Richey’s name has been mentioned in the Georgia Tech coaching search and likely is to come up again as the offseason and coaching searches heat up over the next month. Richey is young, destined for big things, and waiting on his signature moment. Could it come against Virginia next week in Orlando?

Prediction: Furman 70, Virginia 66

The Paladins are a nightmarish matchup for a Virginia team that has struggled to make shots lately. Yes, the Hoos shot the lights out and scored at will inside against Clemson during the ACC Tournament semifinals. But they shot just 33% against Duke in the ACC title game and struggled to stop Mike Young’s modern offense in a loss to Virginia Tech last month. The NCAA Tournament is about matchups, and the worst scenario for Virginia always was going to be a veteran team that knows how to score. That’s what this Furman team is, and it will upset the Hoos on Thursday in Orlando.

Beyond the Opener: A 2nd-round game against Charleston or San Diego State?

If Virginia can win a tough matchup with Furman, it will have a great opportunity to advance to the Sweet 16. Ironically, the Cavaliers matchup better with either Charleston or San Diego State than they do Furman. The Aztecs, a team that like Virginia relies on stingy defense and plays methodical basketball, is a perfect Round of 32 opponent for Tony Bennett’s team. Should San Diego State defeat a Charleston team that hasn’t really beaten anyone of substance all season, it might run into a better version of itself against Virginia in the Round of 32. A potential Sweet 16 matchup with top overall seed Alabama would be brutal, but if anyone can suffocate the Tide, it might be a team with a championship pedigree like the Hoos.