Start time: 6:09 pm ET
TV: CBS, (Jim Nantz, Bill Raftery, Grant Hill, Tracy Wolfson)
Live Stream: NCAA March Madness Live (website or app)
Radio: 107.5 The Game (Columbia) | Live Audio: Gamecock IMG Sports Network
Winner plays: The winner of (1) North Carolina and (3) Oregon in the National Championship, Monday at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, AZ - time TBA (CBS)
This tournament run for South Carolina has been crazy for a number of reasons, but for me it’s been writing lede’s to all of these stories.
Before every game, I want to pen the beginning as “this is the game you’ll tell your grandkids about while bouncing them on your knee”. It’s a Bill Simmons phrase, but I love it because I’ve had plenty of special moments on Dad and Grandpa’s knee. However I’ve yet to be right about “this game” being the one we all pass down.
The truth is, in this tournament it always turns out the next game is the one you pass down. Then the next one. Then the next one, and then the next one.
Now here we are. The South Carolina Gamecocks have gone from one-and-done as a four seed in the SEC tournament to one of the final four teams standing in the biggest dance college basketball has to offer.
However, the Gamecocks will no doubt have the toughest test they’ve faced so far. Standing in between South Carolina and the title game are the Gonzaga Bulldogs: a No. 1 seed who subsequently are having the best tournament run in the history of their program too.
The day is here, so all that’s really left to ponder is if this is if tonight will be the game you pass down, or the next game.
Tale of the Tape
|Elite Eight Results||W (4) Florida 77-70||W (11) Xavier 83-59|
|Sweet 16 Results||W (5) Baylor 70-50||W (5) West Virginia 61-58|
|Third Round Results||W (2) Duke 88-81||W (9) Northwestern 79-73|
|Second Round Results||W (10) Marquette 93-73||W (16) South Dakota State 66-46|
|KenPom Adjusted EM (Rank)||20.63 (25)||32.89 (1)|
|KenPom Offensive Rating (Rank)||108.5 (104)||118.9 (13)|
|KenPom Defensive Rating (Rank)||87.9 (2)||86.0 (1)|
Small ball antidote
South Carolina has been able to beat a lot of teams this season because of their two lineups. South Carolina can present a “big” lineup with Maik Kotsar at the five and Chris Silva at the four, or the Gamecocks can go “small” where Thornwell moves out to the four and Hassani Gravett moves in as a guard.
Most college teams can only play one “big” or “small” lineup successfully — there aren’t many who can play two. South Carolina saw a little bit of that with Florida when they’d stretch the floor with Justin Leon at the four, however he’d get exposed inside when Kotsar or Silva would take him inside.
However Gonzaga has the capability to play both big and small with devastating efficiency. The key comes in three players: Zach Collins, Killian Tillie and Jonathan Williams.
All three are taller than six-foot-nine, shoot over 40 percent from three while Tillie and Williams can defend inside and out. My guess is Gonzaga head coach Mark Few will force South Carolina to play big, forcing Kotar and Silva to play disciplined defense without getting into foul trouble.
Rain in the threes
Gonzaga shoots 37.8 percent from deep as a team, and they get a majority of them from guards Nigel Williams-Gross, Jordan Matthews and Josh Perkins. All three shoot over 36 percent from three, so South Carolina can’t afford to not contest every outside look.
While South Carolina is a notoriously good three-point defense, they have been allowing a lot of shots from deep. The Gamecocks are allowing an average of 23.5 three point shots a game, but up to this point teams have only been able to hit 32.9 percent of those shots.
Florida was able to catch a small amount of lightning in a bottle during the first half with some contested three’s, but come the second half their shooting cooled down significantly. Gonzaga will already be good coming in, so South Carolina can’t afford to be late on switches or not close out on shooters.
If South Carolina can take away the three, they merely have to deal with Gonzaga’s size inside -- which is a problem in itself.
As previously mentioned, by the metrics Gonzaga has the best defense in the country. They’ve held three of the four teams they’ve played in the tournament under 60 points and all four opponents have combined to shoot 23.8 percent from three.
While South Carolina has been a decent three point shooting team throughout the tournament run, if Gonzaga takes away the outside shot completely they’ll force the Gamecocks to take their offense inside. Waiting there will be the likes of Karnowski and Collins, who are both seven feet tall and can alter any look inside.
South Carolina’s offense has been the weak link during the regular season, and if Gonzaga can revert South Carolina back to their February form this game could be in the bag for the Zags.