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No. 1 Gonzaga Bulldogs vs. No. 7 South Carolina Gamecocks
NCAA Tournament – Final Four
April 1, 6:09 pm (ET) on CBS
University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Arizona
For Gonzaga and South Carolina, this is their first trip to the Final Four. Amazingly, this year was the first time South Carolina even won back-to-back tournament games.
It’s incredible that these two teams are playing each other for the right to go to the National Championship.
Gonzaga has always been a good program, but hasn’t succeeded in the tournament. South Carolina came out of nowhere, guided by star guard Sindarius Thornwell and coach Frank Martin.
Gamecocks keys to victory
Guard Sindarius Thornwell
Thornwell is the reason that the Gamecocks have made it this far. There’s no doubt he’s been the best player in March.
He’s leading the tournament in scoring at 25.7 points per game, shooting lights out, and getting to the line at will (32-39 from the line).
He’s rebounding well for a guard, too, grabbing 7.5 boards per game. Thornwell has played lock down defense as well, guarding the opposing team’s best player each game. In the second round against Duke, he held Luke Kennard to 11 points. Against Baylor, he held junior guard Manu Lecomte to just eight points. Finally, in USC’s win over Florida, he held KeVaugh Allen to 13 points.
Thornwell is a force on offense and consistently locks down good players from the opposition.
Pressure on the wings
In terms of size, South Carolina doesn’t match up well with Gonzaga. However, the Gamecock’s guards are quick and great on defense. They’ll have to put a lot of pressure on the Gonzaga guards, making it difficult to throw the ball inside. Every time Gonzaga gets the ball in the post, it’ll be an easy two points.
South Carolina has the talent to limit Gonzaga’s inside touches, it is just a matter of executing.
Gonzaga keys to victory
Pound it inside
Gonzaga has a huge advantage inside.
South Carolina will struggle to stop Gonzaga Center Przemek Karnowski, who is over seven feet tall. Karnowski has underperformed in this tournament, but a lack of execution from the Gamecocks will lead to easy buckets and rebounds for Karnowski.
Six foot nine Johnathan Williams will also be tough to stop. He’s played better in the latter stages of the tournament, scoring 13 against West Virginia and 19 against Xavier.
Stop Sindarius Thornwell
This one is obvious. Playing against the best player in the tournament, they’ll need to find a way to stop him. If they can’t, he could easily go for 30 points and take South Carolina to their first ever National Championship appearance.
Gonzaga is the better team. They have solid guards who will score double-digits points and big men to wreak havoc. They just need to keep doing what they’ve done all this season and they should knock off South Carolina.
Cinderella teams can make it to the Elite Eight and sometimes the Final Four, but history tells that they rarely go all the way.
The Gamecocks will move on. They have just enough size to stop Gonzaga from going off inside, and they have guards that could present a lot of defensive trouble for Gonzaga. Frank Martin is a great coach, too. I loved him during his time at Kansas State and I believe he’ll make the right adjustments to limit Gonzaga’s big men.
Thornwell will be the difference. Expect him to have a big day with a few clutch shots late to move South Carolina past Gonzaga.
Ryan is currently a student at the University of North Carolina. He grew up in the Bay Area and has had Raiders season tickets his entire life fostering his love for the NFL. He has founded his own sports website, thejrreport.com and works at the Sports Desk for the Daily Tar Heel. You can follow Ryan on twitter @rytime98 if you want to discuss anything sports.