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Louisville-Furman preview: Cards expect to be tested in Friday night contest

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The first real challenge of the Mike Pegues era has arrived.

Louisville Cardinals (1-0) vs. Furman Paladins (1-0)

Game Time: 7:02 p.m.

Location: KFC Yum Center: Louisville, Ky.

Television: ACC Network Extra/WatchESPN App

Announcers: Kent Taylor (play-by-play) and Jody Demling (analyst)

Favorite: Louisville by 8.5

Officials: Bill Covington, Jr., Ted Valentine, Clarence Armstrong

Series: Louisville leads, 4-0

Last Meeting: Louisville won 104-63 on Dec. 22, 2002 at Freedom Hall

Series History:

Probable Starting Lineups:

Statistics:

Relevant Videos:

About Furman:

Louisville will be hosting one of the most consistent mid-major programs in all of college basketball over the last five years when Bob Richey’s Furman Paladins enter the KFC Yum Center Friday evening. Richey is a sparkling 89-35 as Furman’s head coach, guiding the program to an NIT bid in 2019 and a top 100 KenPom finish in all four of his seasons at the helm. The program had never finished in the top 100 of KenPom before Richey’s arrival.

While the Paladins are the preseason pick to win the SoCon by many national college hoops writers, the league’s coaches and media had them at No. 2 in the conference’s preseason poll, trailing only Chattanooga.

Despite the SoCon being one of sport’s premier mid-major conference, Richey has guided Furman to a stellar 51-18 mark in league play over the last four seasons. The only thing he hasn’t done is gotten the Paladins over the hump and into the NCAA tournament. Plenty of people believe that moment is coming in a few short months.

Furman is coming off a 118-66 season-opening win over North Greenville in which it set two program records. The Paladins hit a school-record 22 three-pointers (on 44 attempts), and also set a record for assists in a single game, assisting on a whopping 34 of their 46 made baskets.

While they may not launch 44 triples against the Cards (and hopefully won’t make 22), a consistent outside barrage is the main staple of Richey’s offensive attack. Furman has ranked in the nation’s top 20 in three-point attempt rate in all four seasons under Richey, and, incredibly, have ranked inside the top ten in two-point field goal percentage each year as well. The Paladins very much embody the modern offensive trend in basketball in that on nearly all of their possessions, they’re going to take either a three-pointer or a layup. They ranked 340th out of 358 Division-I teams last season in percentage of two-point jumpers taken.

Simply put, Louisville has got to be far more engaged defensively against this team than it was against Southern. If it isn’t, and Furman is given a healthy number of open looks from the outside and open layups off of cuts that catch the Cards napping, it’s going to be a dicey evening.

Senior guard Mike Bothwell is the first individual U of L fans need to know about here. A Second Team All-SoCon performer a year ago, Bothwell is a three-level scorer who possesses the type of length and athleticism that you rarely see a the mid or low level of Division-I. He is a tremendous creator, a very good outside shooter when he has the time and space to get off a clear look, and a pesky defender who is going to be looking to pick the pockets of Cardinal guards all night.

Equally important for this Furman team is the return of point guard Alex Hunter, who elected to use his extra year of eligibility from the NCAA to come back for a 5th season. Hunter is one of the most steady and efficient point guards in all of college basketball, as well as a lethal outside shooter (40.4 percent last season). Despite this team being relatively deep, Hunter will rarely leave the floor in a competitive contest. He buried 6-of-9 threes, 8-of-11 from the field, and had four assists against zero turnovers in the season-opening win.

The third of Furman’s four senior starters is Jalen Slawson, a 6’7 forward who is Furman’s “do a little bit of everything” guy. He is a tremendous finisher, a terrific passer, a guy who ranked third in the SoCon last season in block rate, and, like seemingly everyone else on the team, he can hit the outside shot with consistency.

Conley Garrison, a transfer from Drury, is Furman’s fourth senior starter. He averaged 17.3 points, 5.7 rebounds, and 4.0 assists at the D-II level last season, shooting nearly 40 percent from three and making his conference’s All-Defense team. He seemed to fit in perfectly in his Furman debut, scoring 14 points, hitting 4-of-9 three-point attempts, and dishing out a team-high six assists.

Sophomore Garrett Hien is the team’s de facto inside presence. He stands 6’9, but is a very bony 205-pounds. Expect Hien to split time inside with junior Ben Beeker, who also stands 6’9 but has a bit more brawn than Hien.

Freshman JP Pegues (no relation to Mike), sophomore Joe Anderson and sophomore Marcus Foster will also likely come off the bench to play decent minutes Friday night. All three can shoot it, and all three can share it.

Defensively, Furman is always stout as well, despite being undersized relative to the power conference level. The Paladins have ranked in the SoCon’s top three of adjusted efficiency all four seasons under Richey. They force turnovers, they force long possessions, and they clean up on the defensive glass. They’re not overly flashy, just extremely focused and solid with what they do.

The other thing that has to be mentioned about Furman is that they have a history of being a giant slayer (and giant scarer) under Richey. They stunned 8th-ranked Villanova on the road in 2018. Played 21st-ranked Tennessee within five the year before that. Pushed both Auburn (81-78 in OT) and Alabama (81-76) to the brink in 2019. And took both Cincy (78-73) and ‘Bama (83-80) to the wire a year ago.

This is not your typical sleepy, game two, Friday night in November home non-conference game. If Louisville isn’t a clear step or five better than they were against Southern on Tuesday evening, they’ll be fighting until the final moments in this one.

Notable:

—Louisville has won 59 consecutive home games in November, a streak which dates all the way back to a loss to Vanderbilt on November 30, 1972. The Cards are 46-0 in November games played inside the Yum Center.

—Louisville has won 86 of its last 90 non-conference games at the KFC Yum Center, a mark which spans over the last 11 seasons.

—In the last meeting between these two programs 19 years ago, Louisville prevailed 104-63 on Dec. 22, 2002 in Freedom Hall as Marvin Stone and Taquan Dean led the Cardinals with 21 points apiece. Stone, who combined this game with one other to earn ESPN.com national player of the week with his performance, added 13 rebounds while Dean hit 5-of-6 three-pointers.

—Louisville is 16-6 all-time against current members of the Southern Conference.

According to DraftKings Sportsbook, Louisville is an 8.5-point favorite in this game. The Cards opened as a 10-point favorite.

—Southern Conference members are 1-0 against ACC teams so far this season thanks to The Citadel’s 78-63 win at Pittsburgh Tuesday night.

—This will be the second game of a six-game suspension for Louisville head coach Chris Mack. Assistant coach Mike Pegues will guide the Cardinals in Mack’s absence. The win/loss total from these six games will go on his coaching record, not Mack’s.

—Inside the KFC Yum Center, Louisville has a 95-6 mark against non-conference opponents.

—Louisville is 28-1 over the last three seasons when scoring at least 71 points.

—Since 2004, Louisville is 126-0 when leading by more than 10 points at halftime.

—Louisville has won 162 consecutive games when holding an opponent under 50 points.

—Louisville has won 155 consecutive games when scoring at least 85 points in regulation.

—Louisville is one of only five schools to be ranked in the AP Top 25 poll at least once during each of the last 18 seasons (others: Duke, Gonzaga, Kansas, & North Carolina).

Ken Pomeroy Prediction: Louisville 75, Furman 65