South Carolina in the Final Four? Did anyone have the Gamecocks in their bracket outside the Palmetto State?
Probably not, but after four full rounds of the NCAA tournament, there is little doubt that head coach Frank Martin's team deserves this trip as much as of the three other participants. The Gamecocks attack the basket, play relentless defense and execute team basketball on an every-game basis.
South Carolina (26-10) gained its trip to the Final Four with a 77-70 victory over Southeastern Conference rival Florida Sunday at New York City's Madison Square Garden.
|NCAA Tournament, Final Four|
|Date||Matchups||Time (ET)||Point Spread||Prediction|
|April 1||South Carolina (7) vs. Gonzaga (1)||6:09 p.m.||Gonzaga (-6.5)||Gonzaga*|
|April 1||Oregon (3) vs. North Carolina (1)||8:49 p.m.||North Carolina (-4.5)||North Carolina*|
|*-Will win game but fail to cover point spread.|
|OddsShark; Silverman predictions|
The Gamecocks may have been the seventh seed, but they stood up to Florida's pressure.
Sindarius Thornwell and his teammates will play top-seeded Gonzaga in their Final Four matchup in Phoenix. The Bulldogs (36-1) overpowered the Xavier Musketeers 83-59 in their Elite Eight confrontation Saturday.
Thornwell is a relentless, game-changing player who scored 26 points against the Gators and has scored 15 points or more in 19 straight games. He has a series of moves that allows him to operate down low, move out defenders and get open shots at the most crucial moments.
Thornwell is averaging 21.4 points and 7.2 rebounds per game, and he gets help from teammate PJ Dozier, who is adding in 13.7 points per game. Duane Notice and Chris Silva are also averaging in double figures for the Gamecocks.
Nigel Williams-Goss is the Bulldogs' go-to scorer, and he leads the team with 16.7 points per game and is shooting 49.0 percent from the field. Big man Przemek Karnowski scores 12.2 points per night and is connecting on 60.1 percent of his shots.
In addition to those two, Jordan Mathews and Johnathan Williams are both averaging in double figures for the Zags.
South Carolina and Gonzaga will meet Saturday at 6:09 p.m. ET, and the Bulldogs are favored by 6.5 points, according to OddsShark.
South Carolina has passed every test to this point, and has reached the Final Four for the first time in the team's history. The same is true for Gonzaga, but the Bulldogs have been an established power for many years and they exorcised quite a few demons with their Elite Eight win over Xavier.
The Gamecocks may be a bit star struck at the Final Four, and they could have a hard time getting their feet on their ground and concentrating on the task at hand. Martin is a great coach, but Gonzaga's Mark Few is more likely to have his team prepared for the enormity of the task at hand.
Look for Gonzaga to get off to a big start and hold off South Carolina to advance to the championship game.
Oregon vs North Carolina
The Tar Heels were pushed to the limit by the Kentucky Wildcats, but North Carolina earned its spot in the Final Four when Luke Maye hit the game-winning jumper with 0.3 seconds remaining to give head coach Roy Williams' team a 75-73 victory.
North Carolina (31-7), which lost last year's NCAA title game in heartbreaking fashion when Villanova's Kris Jenkins hit the game-winning shot at the buzzer, reeled off a late 12-0 run to seemingly regain control against the Wildcats. However, Kentucky was undaunted and rallied to tie the score when Malik Monk hit a three-point shot from the top of the key.
Maye came off the bench to score 17 points for the Tar Heels, and that contribution helped North Carolina get back to the Final Four for the second year in a row.
Justin Jackson had 19 points to lead the Tar Heels, while Kennedy Meeks came up huge with seven points and 17 rebounds.
The Tar Heels will meet the Oregon Ducks (33-5) Saturday night at 8:49 p.m. North Carolina is a 4.5-point favorite in the game, according to OddsShark.
Oregon earned its spot in the Final Four with its upset victory over Kansas Saturday night. The athletic Ducks are led by forwards Dillon Brooks and Jordan Bell. Brooks is averaging 16.3 points per game and connecting on 49.6 percent of his shots from the field. Bell is averaging 10.9 points per night at 63.4 percent..
In addition to those two, Tyler Dorsey is averaging 14.5 points per game.
The Ducks will have a difficult time handling North Carolina's size, big-play ability and hunger. Jackson is the Heels' leading scorer with 18.2 points per night, while Joel Berry II is averaging 14.7 points per night. Meeks and Isaiah Hicks are both averaging more than 12.0 points per night.
Oregon could have been intimidated by a red-hot Kansas team that had won its two previous NCAA tournament games in overpowering fashion. However, the Ducks stood up to the Jayhawks, handled their late rally and deserved to win the game.
The Ducks are not likely to be intimidated by the Tar Heels, but North Carolina appears to have an edge because of its ability to play its best basketball when the game is one the line. The Tar Heels did that in their round of 32 victory over Arkansas and did it again in their epic win over Kentucky.
This should be another classic game, but North Carolina will find a way to get it done, even if Oregon stays within the spread.