Wichita State Shockers

Five things to know about Wichita State’s NIT opponent: the Furman Paladins

Wichita State received a No. 6 seed in the National Invitational Tournament and will play at No. 3 seed Furman in the opening round at 6 p.m. Central on Wednesday with a live stream on ESPN3.

Here are five things to know about WSU’s opponent

1. Matt Rafferty is one of the nation’s best players

The 6-foot-8, 215-pound senior was recently ranked the 34th-best player by Sports Illustrated. Rafferty averages 17.2 points, 9.1 rebounds, 4.3 assists, 2.5 steals and 1.1 blocks, while shooting 61.7 percent from the field.

For advanced stat fans, Rafferty led the country with 8.3 total win shares and also in defensive win shares this season. He was the driving force that led Furman to a school-record 25 wins.

Rafferty doesn’t shoot many three-pointers, doing most of his damage inside the arc. His offensive rating of 127.7 ranks in the top 30 and his true shooting percentage of 65.4 ranks 31st. He has one of the best free-throw rates and makes 76.8 percent from the foul line.

Furman plays Rafferty at center, so WSU could throw 6-foot-11 Jaime Echenique and 7-foot Asbjorn Midtgaard at him to make him score over size. Or the Shockers could use 6-8 forward Markis McDuffie or 6-5 wing Dexter Dennis to defend Rafferty with more athleticism.

2. This might be the best Furman team in the last four decades

Furman has been a mid-major on the rise recently. The Paladins won 23 games in 2017 and 2018, then won a school-record 25 this season.

Furman started the season 12-0, most notably knocking off Villanova on the road, 76-68 in overtime. The Paladins are rated No. 41 in the NET, No. 56 on KenPom, No. 57 on ESPN’s Basketball Power Index and No. 75 on Sagarin ratings.

Furman hasn’t been this good since it was regularly making NCAA Tournaments in the 1970s.

This is the first collegiate head coaching job for Bob Richey, who is a South Carolina native. He has won nearly 74 percent of his games in his first two seasons after serving as an assistant coach at Furman for six seasons.

3. Furman can three-and-D with the best of them

Furman has the 16th-highest three-point rate in the country with 47 percent of its shots coming beyond the arc. The Paladins not only shoot a lot of threes, but make a lot of them, as they are making 36.2 percent for a top-90 accuracy in the country.

For reference, the average game Furman plays sees the Paladins make 10 three-pointers and shoot 28 of them. WSU hasn’t played against a team like that since Davidson at the Charleston Classic.

Furman is so efficient from the outside because Rafferty is such a problem inside for opponents. Defenses have to collapse to help on him and Furman spaces the floor well with four shooters dotting the perimeter. That leaves open kick-outs to shooters like Jordan Lyons (34.5 percent), Alex Hunter (37.2 percent), Clay Mounce (42.5 percent), Andrew Brown (41.7 percent) and Noah Gurley (31.7 percent), the four other starters and a sixth man who make an average of 9.4 three-pointers per game.

But Furman is actually a better defensive team. The Paladins have the No. 42-best defense in the KenPom rankings and average more than eight steals per game, which comes out to a 12.2 steal percentage for the eighth-best mark in the country. Furman also owns a top-50 block percentage and defends the three-point line well with opponents shooting a tick above 31 percent.

Furman rarely uses its bench players. That makes the Paladins susceptible to foul trouble and WSU, which has a rotation of 10 players, could use its depth to its advantage.

Furman’s No. 42 defense is not quite on par with Houston (No. 13) or Cincinnati (No. 28), but it would be comfortably the third-best defense in the American.

4. What is a Paladin and where is Furman?

Furman University is located in Greenville, S.C. It was chosen the top university in the state by U.S. News and World Report and was ranked No. 9 on the Times Higher Education top-10 list for most beautiful campuses in the country.

Notable graduates are Charles Townes, a Nobel Prize-winning inventor of the laser; John Watson, the “father of behavioral psychology”; Keith Lockhart, conductor of the Boston Pops; Alexander Stubb, former prime minister of Finland; Clint Dempsey, former member of the United States men’s soccer team; Brad Faxon, a nine-time winner on the PGA and Champions Tours; and Sam Wyche, former head coach of the Cincinnati Bengals.

As for a “Paladin,” the American Heritage College Dictionary defines it as a “paragon of chivalry; a heroic champion; a strong supporter or defender of a cause; and any of the 12 peers of French emperor Charlemagne’s court.”

While a paladin and a knight are technically different, the university has adopted the knight on a horse as the athletic team’s mascots and purple and white as the school colors.

5. There will be certain rule changes for NIT games

The NIT has experimented with rule changes and will have three rule changes that will carry over to the 2019 tournament:

  • The three-point line will be extended by 20 inches to match the same distance used by FIBA at 22 feet, 1.75 inches.
  • The free-throw lane will be widened from 12 feet to 16 feet, consistent with the width used by the NBA.
  • The shot clock will reset to 20 seconds after an offensive rebound instead of the full 30 seconds.

Here are the three new rule changes that will be implemented in this tournament:

  • Team fouls will reset at the 10-minute mark of each half for the purpose of determining free throws.
  • One-and-one free throws will be eliminated. Teams will shoot two bonus free throws after the fifth team foul of each 10-minute segment.
  • Teams will be awarded two free throws for every foul committed under two minutes remaining in each half.
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