Gonzaga vs. South Carolina
When: 6:10 p.m. Saturday TV: CBS
Never miss a local story.
Seed: No. 1 West
Coach: Mark Few (25-17 in NCAA tournament)
How they got here: Beat No. 16 South Dakota State, 66-46; beat No. 8 Northwestern, 79-73; beat No. 4 West Virginia, 61-58; beat No. 11 Xavier, 83-59
Top players: G Nigel Williams-Goss (16.7 ppg, 4.6 apg), F Przemek Karnowski (12.2 ppg, 5.8 rpg), F Johnathan Williams (10.3 ppg, 6.6 rpg)
Strength: The Zags are No. 1 in Ken Pomeroy and Jeff Sagarin’s computer rankings for a reason. They’re good at just about everything. They have size, they have depth, they can shoot and they’re tough on defense.
Weakness: Experience. History is not fond of first-time Final Four teams. Texas Western, in 1966, was the last team to win the national title on its first trip to the Final Four. The Zags haven’t exactly had to deal with a ton of game pressure this season, either. They’ve had only six games decided by single digits, and only two (West Virginia and Northwestern) in the tournament.
Rising in Phoenix: Gonzaga has been the best team all season, whether you want to believe it or not. Given some of the Zags’ recent March failures – and their strength of schedule in the West Coast Conference – it was relatively easy to dismiss Mark Few’s crew in the first four months of the season. But the (computer) numbers don’t lie. Statistically, the Zags have been as good as any team since the 2001-02 season, according to Pomeroy’s adjusted efficiency metric.
Tournament ashes: West Virginia is the only team Gonzaga has seen all season of South Carolina’s ilk. The Mountaineers were a horrific 5-of-23 from the 3-point line in the Sweet 16 matchup and still only lost by three points. If the rough-and-tumble Gamecocks drag the game into the gutter and shoot better than 21.7 percent, the Zags won’t be able to fight their way out.
South Carolina Gamecocks
Coach: Frank Martin (10-4 in NCAA tournament)
Seed: No. 7 East
How they got here: Beat No. 10 Marquette, 93-73; beat No. 2 Duke, 88-81; beat No. 3 Baylor, 70-50; beat No. 4 Florida, 77-70
Top players: G Sindarius Thornwell (21.6 ppg, 7.2 rpg), G PJ Dozier (13.8 ppg, 4.7 rpg), F Chris Silva (10.1 ppg, 5.9 rpg)
Strength: Defense. There’s really not much else to say. The Gamecocks are as tough as the day is long, and they defend with the desperation of a farmer in a drought. They force 17.2 turnovers per game and rank in the top 20 in the country in steals, field-goal percentage defense (39.8 percent) and turnover margin (plus-4).
Weakness: Before the tournament, points had been difficult to come by for the Gamecocks. They entered the tournament ranked No. 201 in scoring (72.1 points per game) and No. 306 (41.4 percent) in field-goal percentage.
Rising in Phoenix: Why stop now? The Gamecocks are not supposed to be here, given their general tournament history and their specific regular-season struggles. They’re underdogs against Gonzaga, and would be against either UNC or Oregon, but they’re used to that role. The defensive swarm and second-half comebacks continue for the unlikeliest national champion since 1983.
Tournament ashes: Gonzaga’s too good to spot an early lead. The Gamecocks have trailed at the half in all four tournament games. The other teams couldn’t knock them, but the Bulldogs, with their combination of size and strength, have the right components to end the Gamecocks’ magical run.