Monday, October 7, 2019

Paladins third in SoCon men's hoops polls

Furman senior Jordan Lyons was selected to the All-SoCon
preseason team announced Monday. Photo courtesy of Furman
ASHEVILLE, N.C. - Each of the past three men's basketball seasons, East Tennessee State, Furman, UNC Greensboro and Wofford have finished somewhere between first and fourth in the Southern Conference standings. According to the league's coaches and media, that's the expectation again this season.

One year after dominating the rest of the league, ETSU, UNCG. Furman and Wofford are the consensus picks to finish first, second, third and fourth, respectively, in the SoCon preseason polls released Monday. Those four teams went a combined 47-1 against the other six teams in the 2018-19 season. Furman picked up four first-place votes out of 30 in the media poll. ETSU got 20 first-place votes, while UNCG had six.

While the Paladins return four starters off a team that won a school record 25 games last season, the question that Furman coach Bob Richey has undoubtedly been asked about the most is who's replacing the one that's not. There's no doubt that Matt Rafferty turned his great career into a Hall of Fame one with a brilliant senior season, but this is the same question this program has grown accustomed to answering in a positive manner lately.

This time of year in 2016, it was who was going to replace Stephen Croone. In 2017, it was Kris Acox. In 2018, it was the big four of Geoff Beans, John Davis III, Daniel Fowler and Devin Sibley, who all helped install the fancy engine in the old clunker that Croone began restoring.

"The key to that is nobody saw any of those coming. You go all the way back to Stephen's senior year and we won - at that time, what seemed like a whopping - 19 games. Then everybody thought we were going to take a step back, and then all of a sudden guys emerge," Richey said. "Then Kris leaves and it's 'we don't really have a big guy,' but we had those seniors and a guard-led team. Matt and Andrew (Brown) were kind of the behind-the-scenes glue to that group. And then (last year), nobody saw it coming with Matt either.
"The wildest part when you look back on all this is the one that everybody's taking about the most now is Matt. But he was the one that people saw (coming on) the least."

Richey said the biggest reason there's been no decline, only continued elevation the past few years, is because of the foundation of the program is based on being a true team.

The reason last year's offense ran everything through Rafferty was because how well he could produce in every facet of the game. Richey believes that even when you lose a player like that, it can open up new avenues for success.

"We've got to try to get out and run a little bit more this year. We didn't want to necessarily wear Matt down last year doing that," Richey said. "That gives us a different dimension. There's no doubt we will lose different things (without Rafferty), but there's also some things this team is going to gain. I'll be interested to see how that manifests itself once we start to play."

Next year at this time, the question surrounding Furman basketball will likely be who's replacing Jordan Lyons. Lyons, the Paladins' lone senior, made the preseason All-SoCon team after averaging 16.2 points per game and hitting 34.7 percent of his 3-pointers.

Lyons became the first Paladin since 1969 to score at least 50 points in a game when he had 54 against North Greenville when he tied the NCAA record with 15 3-pointers. Lyons had a team-high 17 points in the Paladins upset win at reigning national champion Villanova.

"Jordan's worked really hard this offseason to get his game even more complete," Richey said. "We've seen growth in his game every year and I think this year, we're going to see the best version of him. There's no doubt in my mind he's going to be one of the best players in the league.
"Jordan has earned what he's earned as an all-conference guy. ... Nobody's talking about your Noah Gurley's, your Clay Mounce's and your Alex Hunter's, which is great. We're good with that. We want to showcase what we have during the season.
"Nobody saw it coming last year either. We just keep our head down and keep working."

Furman opens the season Nov. 5 at Gardner-Webb before taking on 2017-18 Final Four participant Loyola-Chicago in the home opener Nov. 8.

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