Posted on March 30, 2017, by Travis Pulver
It’s been talked about by many over the last week or so. When the NCAA Tournament began, there was no way anyone could have foreseen South Carolina making it to the Final Four. They struggled down the home stretch of the regular season and were bounced from the SEC Tournament in the quarterfinals—by Alabama (whose basketball team is nothing like its football team).
But here they are–in the Final Four for the first time in school history.
Of course, the faithful will say they always had confidence in the team’s talent and knew they could get it done—the same stuff every fan says about their team up until their team loses. For South Carolina fans it happens to be true this time.
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Gonzaga, on the other hand, is the team many expected to make it this far but doubted they would. The doubters tended to think one of two things: (1) that the Bulldogs were pretenders that were ranked so high only because they beat up on a weak schedule and didn’t have what it takes, or (2) that despite their talent-filled roster, they’d find a way to fail.
While the Bulldogs haven’t played their best throughout the tournament, they have played well enough to win. Did they play down to their competition or are they not as good as previously advertised? Yes, they dominated Xavier, but the Musketeers were an 11-seed. They should have dominated Xavier.
South Carolina has easily played their best basketball over the last couple of weeks. It’s not unusual for a good team to find a way to take their game to another level come Tournament time. But often times, when that happens, reality eventually comes crashing down.
If South Carolina can continue to bring their “A+” game, will it be enough to overcome Gonzaga’s “A” game or even their “B” game?
It will all come down to how well South Carolina can defend against the Gonzaga offense.
The Gamecocks have been getting it down with defense throughout the tournament. Whether South Carolina plays a half-court, man-to-man or a 2-3 zone, South Carolina will look to disrupt the Gonzaga guards—much like they did Baylor’s. They will try to force Gonzaga’s guards to get creative and beat them one on one.
Baylor’s guard couldn’t do anything and the Gamecocks crushed the Bears. However, Gonzaga’s guards are much better than Baylor’s. But Nigel Williams-Goss and Josh Perkins haven’t always dealt with aggressive defenses well. Both struggled against West Virginia’s press defense and could struggle against South Carolina.
Gonzaga’s offense is best when it can be run through the post. But if South Carolina makes that a little too hard, that could give the Gamecocks the edge they need.
All the defense in the world will matter little if the Gamecocks can’t score. Gonzaga’s defense isn’t going to make scoring very easy for South Carolina. Luckily, Sindarius Thornwell has been impossible to stop. Not only has his defensive game been on point, but he is the leading scorer in the Tournament to date with 25.7 points a game.
Gonzaga will need to stop him without creating too many openings for the rest of the Gamecocks to exploit if they want to win. So—can they? At best, they will have to hope they can slow him down and no one else picks up the slack.
Vegas is calling Gonzaga a 6.5-point favorite. It is not hard to see them winning by twice that. At the same time, it is not hard to imagine South Carolina’s defense locking down on the Bulldogs, and the Gamecocks winning by six.
However it ends up—it should be a lot of fun to watch.