East meets West, Saturday, April 1, 6:09 pm ET, CBS
Gonzaga enters the national semi-final against South Carolina as a considerable favorite of 6 1/2 points, a somewhat surprising number since the Gamecocks are playing at such a high level, having already dusted tournament low seeds such as Duke (#2), Baylor (#3), and Florida (#4) by solid margins.
In terms of margin of victory, the two teams appear to be on a collision course with the Zags' average margin during the tournament being 13.25 and South Carolina's at 13.5.
Gonzaga, having defeated - in order - a 16 (South Dakota State), an 8 (Northwestern), a 4 (West Virginia), and an 11 (Xavier) by scores of 20, 6, 3 and 24, respectively. It's worth noticing that the lowest margins of victory were actually against the better teams (i.e., the lower-numbered seeds) and it's entirely possible that the upset-minded Musketeers from Xavier simply ran out of gas against the Bulldogs after beating #2 Arizona, 73-71.
Seeds of 11 or higher generally don't make the Final Four. In fact, no team seeded higher than 11 has ever reached the promised land of college basketball. Three 11 seeds have, those being LSU, in 1986; George Mason in 2006; and VCU in 2011. None of them won.
So, the 24-point romp over Xavier, which finished the season with a very respectable 24-14 record has to be weighed against their overall quality. The Musketeers were 9-9 in the Big East conference. The Big East may have been massively overseeded, sending seven teams and finishing with a record of 6-7 in the tournament. Only Xavier, Villanova (knocked out in the second round), and Butler won games. Not to belabor the point, but the Bulldogs may have had one of the easier paths to the Final Four, thanks, in part, to Xavier, for whipping the #2 and #3 seeds in the region, Arizona and Florida State.
Gonzaga's three-point win over #4 seed West Virginia is another indicator that the Bulldogs may not be competitive against the very best in the country. Though they have, during the regular season, posted wins over Florida, Iowa State, and Arizona, but those games were all played on their home court, a definite advantage.
See College Basketball Daily's Final Four Stats post for more.
Looking at South Carolina's wins, they came against #10 Marquette, 93-73; #2 Duke, 88-81; #3 Baylor, 70-50; and #4 Florida, 77-70. The Gamecocks took down three of the four top seeds in the region, and, it's possible that they may have been in business against #1 Villanova, but Wisconsin (beaten by Florida in the Sweet 16) beat them to it.
The quality of South Carolina's wins are very high, as are some other revealing tournament stats. The Gamecocks are scoring an average of 82.0 points per game; Gonzaga, 72.3. South Carolina is also shooting better, .476 to .432, and making their free throws. They were shooting freebies at a 69% rate and are knocking them down at 75% during their tourney run. Gonzaga has gone in the opposite direction, making 74% during the regular season and devolving down to 59% in the tourney.
While the Bulldogs carry into the game the gaudy 36-1 record (best in the country), South Carolina pales by comparison at 26-10, but they appear to be very much in the mold of a team playing with purpose and conviction. Team leader, Sindarius Thornwell is a senior and was the SEC Player of the Year. Among other scoring options for South Carolina are the shifty PJ Dozier and Carlos Silva on the interior. 6'10" freshman forward, Maik Kotsar emerged as a real threat in the win over the Gators, scoring 12 points on 6-for-10 shooting.
For Gonzaga, they always need a big effort from leading scorer Nigel Williams-Goss (16.7 ppg regular season) because after him, the talent level falls off in fairly dramatic fashion, but the Bulldogs are fairly deep and play excellent defense.
In the final analysis, it's difficult to see how the Bulldogs can defeat this solid bunch from South Carolina by more than a few points, if at all. Taking the 6 1/2 points would seem to be just about a no-brainer as the Gamecocks may prove to be one of the best 8-seeds of all time.
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