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NCAA Final Four Preview: #1 Gonzaga vs #7 South Carolina

Photo courtesy of Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

35 percent of ESPN brackets had Gonzaga in their Final Four. While the Bulldogs were consistently attacked by analysts for their weak schedule and occasionally scrappy offense, they’ve held their own throughout the tournament. Mark Few was selected NCAA Coach of the Year last week, so the team is in great hands as they face South Carolina in their first ever Final Four appearance.

For Gonzaga, the game comes down to defense. The Bulldogs have the best defensive efficiency during the tournament – they thrive on keeping their games low scoring against difficult teams. Unfortunately, they face the South Carolina Gamecocks, who rank second in defensive efficiency this tournament. Only 0.6 percent of ESPN brackets had South Carolina going to their Final Four, and South Carolina may have had the most difficult path of getting to the Final Four of the four teams. They upset #2 seeded Duke 7 points, #3 seeded Baylor by 20 points, and #4 seeded Florida by 7 points. Sindarius Thornwell has led the Gamecocks offense averaging over 21 points per game, and he’ll easily give the Bulldogs defensive trouble as he moves the ball quickly and penetrates off the dribble.

The Gamecocks don’t rely much on three point shooting, only making two in their last game against the Florida Gators. Even with Gonzaga’s defense and height, the Gamecocks will give them difficulty inside the paint – nothing that Gonzaga hasn’t seen before, however. In order for Gonzaga to be successful, they need to be able to move the ball and capitalize on fast break points. This is going to be a low scoring game, and possibly the best defensive showing of the entire NCAA season. Neither team relies on three pointers that much – combined with the fact that Gonzaga ranks fourth and South Carolina ranks eighth in defensive efficiency on three point shots. This is about finding the splitting defenders with passes and getting inside the paint. Gonzaga’s height, especially 7 foot center Przemek Karnowski,  will ultimately be the difference maker in the game. Mark Few’s guys have been tested a bit less over the course of the season, but they haven’t shown any major concerns this NCAA tournament.
I’d pick the Gonzaga Bulldogs over South Carolina. It’s a tough matchup, and I’m personally rooting for a Carolina vs Carolina finals, but the Bulldogs are just too good right now. Low scoring but high energy throughout the game – expect a great showing from both teams either way.