#811 University of South Carolina Gamecocksvs.#812 Gonzaga University Bulldogs
Written by Chris Kubala
South Carolina Gamecocks (26-10 SU, 15-16-2 ATS, 14-18-1 O/U) vs. #2 Gonzaga Bulldogs (36-1 SU, 23-9-2 ATS, 16-18 O/U)
NCAAB: Saturday, April 1, 2017, University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Arizona, 6:09 pm ET
Spread: Gonzaga -6.5, Over/Under: 138.5
It’s a matchup of teams that have never made it this far in the NCAA Tournament in the first national semifinal. The seventh-seeded South Carolina Gamecocks, winners of the East Region, take on the top-seeded Gonzaga Bulldogs, winners of the West Region, in the first of two games in the Final Four. The winner advances to the national title game, the loser goes home. South Carolina knocked off fourth-seeded Florida 77-70 to advance to their first Final Four Sunday. Gonzaga clobbered 11th seeded Xavier 83-59 in the regional final Saturday for their first Final Four berth. This is the first time the teams have met on the hardwood.
South Carolina had not made it past the second round of the NCAA Tournament since 1973 but here they are in the Final Four. For the third time in four games in the tournament, the Gamecocks trailed at the half but rallied to win the game. Sunday, South Carolina trailed 40-33 at intermission before outscoring Florida 44-30 in the second half to get the win. The Gamecocks outscored the Gators 7-2 over the last 53 seconds after Florida cut the South Carolina lead to 70-68. South Carolina shot 49.1 percent from the floor despite going 2 of 10 from beyond the arc. The Gamecocks cashed in 23 of 31 free throws and forced 16 Florida turnovers in the win. Sindarius Thornwell had a team high 26 points plus seven rebounds to lead the way for South Carolina.
The Gamecocks are an average team on the offensive end as they are 178th in scoring offense with 73.2 points per game. South Carolina is tied for 138th in rebounding with 36.3 boards a night and 235th with 12.6 assists a contest. The Gamecocks are excellent defensively as they are 31st in the nation by allowing 64.9 points a night. South Carolina is shooting 42.1 percent from the field as a team this season. The Gamecocks hit 6.7 three pointers a night while shooting 33.7 percent from beyond the arc. Sindarius Thornwell leads the team with 21.6 points plus 7.2 rebounds a game. PJ Dozier contributes 13.8 points plus 4.7 boards while Duane Notice (10.2 points) and Chris Silva (10.1 points) each are putting up double figure scoring averages. Maik Kotsar, Rakym Felder and Justin McKie each add at least 4.1 points a night for coach Frank Martin.
Gonzaga went into Saturday’s semifinal tied with Xavier for the most NCAA Tournament wins without a Final Four appearance with 27. The Bulldogs’ 28th NCAA Tournament victory erased that stigma. Gonzaga took a 10 point halftime advantage and poured it on in the second half as they limited Xavier to 20 second half points. The Bulldogs hit 47.5 percent from the field and knocked down 12 of their 24 three point attempts in the game. Gonzaga held Xavier to 35.5 percent shooting overall, including a dismal 2 of 16 from beyond the arc. With the threes not falling, the Musketeers were out of answers. Nigel Williams-Goss had 23 points and eight rebounds to lead the Bulldogs.
The Bulldogs are 14th in the nation in scoring offense with an average of 83.2 points per game. Gonzaga is 6th in rebounding with 40.5 boards a night and stands 62nd with 15.4 assists per contest. The Bulldogs are 4th in the nation in scoring defense as they allow 60.9 points per game. Gonzaga is shooting 50.9 percent from the field as a team this season, which is 2nd in the country. The Bulldogs are averaging 7.3 three pointers a night on 37.8 percent shooting from beyond the arc. Przemek Karnowski is one of four Bulldogs in double figures with 12.2 points plus 5.8 rebounds per game. Zach Collins puts up 9.9 points plus 5.7 boards a night, Nigel Williams-Goss contributes a team high 16.7 points, 5.9 rebounds and 4.6 assists a night and Jordan Mathews is good for 10.7 points a game. Josh Perkins (8.2 ppg) and Johnathan Williams (10.3 points, 6.6 rebounds) also are scoring at a solid clip. Silas Melson, Killian Tillie and Bryan Alberts are all seeing double digit minutes as well for coach Mark Few.
South Carolina’s run to the Final Four has been nothing short of sensational. Rallying from halftime deficits three times to reach the Final Four had been done just three times previously. The Gamecocks have shown tenacity and grit to go with their tough defense, which is the calling card of coach Frank Martin. The difference in this one is that Gonzaga has the experience of actually having been in the NCAA Tournament before. There is plenty of leadership for the Bulldogs and in a game where nerves will be a factor, you can’t overlook that. Look for Gonzaga to win a tough game to advance to the national title game.
Both teams have shown a penchant to play solid defense this season with Gonzaga boasting a top 10 scoring defense in the country and South Carolina not that far behind. One thing the Gamecocks have to avoid is falling into too deep of a hole early on as the Bulldogs can make things difficult to dig out of, as Xavier found out Saturday. The one team to really contain Gonzaga offensively was West Virginia with their pressing style of defense but even that didn’t work. Gonzaga simply stifled the Mountaineers offensively and made it nearly impossible for them to get a good look at the basket.
This one will be interesting to see if South Carolina tries to grind it out and limit possessions knowing that Gonzaga has a better offensive attack to work with. If the Gamecocks do that and slow the tempo, this one could be one of those games where both teams are in the 60s. If Gonzaga pushes the pace and establishes a lead where South Carolina has to run at a quicker pace, this could easily blow over the total. This one could go either way but with both teams a little tense in their first appearance in the Final Four, I look for this to be just under the total.
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Christopher Kubala has been crunching stats and following sports for over 30 years. His in depth analysis and passion for sports have led him to writing books about sports, regularly being featured on sports talk radio and as the go-to person for any obscure trivia. He keeps an eye on transactions and statistics like a hawk, especially when it comes to football, both the NFL and college, the NHL, the NBA and college basketball and MLB.