As someone who regularly writes about South Carolina basketball, I feel like I have spent the majority of this season trying to convince people just how legit this Gamecocks squad is. If you are a student or fan of South Carolina, then you most certainly understand my frustration. People outside of the Gamecocks fan base just refused to recognize the potential threat this team might pose come tournament time, but now things have changed…The Gamecocks are in the final four and the whole nation KNOWS just how legit they are. The nation knows about the scrappy lockdown defense that dominated Duke, Baylor and Florida. They know about the freak of nature that is Sindarius “Sin City” Thornwell and the 103 points he has recorded in the Big Dance so far. They know that Frank Martin is the most intense coach in college basketball and will accept absolutely nothing less then the best from his team. And most importantly, they know that this South Carolina Gamecocks squad has the potential to beat any team in the nation on any given night. So now that everyone is on the same page (and the South Carolina underdog bandwagon) lets talk about what the Gamecocks need to do to pull an upset against Gonzaga in the biggest game of their season. Below are a few key areas that South Carolina will need to succeed in to give the Gonzaga Bulldogs a run for their money.
Win The Defensive Battle
If you have watched South Carolina play this season, you know that they have the ability to turn every game into an absolute bar fight. Just looking at their first four tournament games, they have all been extremely scrappy and physical games. Forcing turnovers has been a huge factor in South Carolina’s game and they average 17 forced turnovers a game. They normally have the ability to suck other teams into their scrappy style of play and end up turning the games into defensive wars. This will most certainly be the case Saturday night as the Gonzaga Bulldogs also rely heavily on their defensive play. In fact, according to Kenpom Gonzaga and South Carolina rank 1 and 2 in adjusted defensive efficiency, respectively. South Carolina’s defense will need to be at the top of their game to edge out the bulldogs on the defensive section of the stat sheet.
Out Rebounding The Bulldogs
If this game plays out anything like South Carolina’s last four games, getting boards will be a major factor in who wins this game. In every one of South Carolina’s games in the Big Dance this year, the Gamecocks have out boarded their opponents. The Gamecocks have their work cut out for them against Gonzaga, who currently averages 40 rebounds per game. In this category they are led by the Polish monster Przemek Karnowski (214 rebounds) and forward Johnathan Williams (244 rebounds). To contest their presence, the Gamecock’s will need big man Chris Silva to continue to post solid rebound numbers. He is currently averaging 8 rebounds per game in the tournament and recorded a crucial 10 boards against the Duke Blue Devils. Star scorer Sindarius Thornwell also contributes a lot to this area, averaging 7 boards per game this season. Considering USC has out rebounded their opponents in each tournament game, winning this battle at the boards will one-hundred percent be a key part of Frank Martin’s game plan.
Continue to Shoot the Lights Out
While the Gamecocks played well all season, one thing that is making them a much better team in March has been their consistency from the field. During the regular season, South Carolina shot 41 percent from the field and averaged 72 points per game. In the NCAA tournament however, the Cocks are shooting 48 percent from the field and averaging 82 points per game. This scoring barrage is of course led by fan-favorite Sindarius Thornwell who has scored 103 points in the NCAA tournament so far. While Sin-City is the leading scorer, the whole team has been contributing this post season. This includes PJ Dozier, Chris Silva and Duane Notice who have all been averaging over 10 points a game in the tournament. Taking a variety of shots with consistent results will be a major key to beating this Gonzaga squad.