CDA News’ look at the NCAA tournament continues with the No. 7 seed in the East Region, the South Carolina Gamecocks. South Carolina’s presence in the field at all is a testament to the job that coach Frank Martin has done since coming to Columbia, S.C., as the Gamecocks emerged as one of the stronger teams in the Southeastern Conference and made up for just missing the field in 2016. South Carolina comes into the tournament with a record of 22-10 and lost its conference tournament opener to Alabama. They’ll open on Friday in Greenville, S.C., against the No. 10 seed in the East, the Golden Eagles of Marquette.
How they got here: The start was far more important than the finish, as South Carolina rode an excellent nonconference performance, the play of star Sindarius Thornwell, and a stingy defense to a 20-5 start that included solid wins over teams such as Vermont, Syracuse, Michigan, and Monmouth. The South Carolina Gamecocks aren’t a team that beats themselves, and they’ve shown the ability to put away teams that aren’t on their level, an important skill for the NCAA tournament.
Reasons for optimism: Thornwell is excellent and has the chance to do some damage in his first NCAA tournament. The senior shooter is by far South Carolina’s most important player and has easily led the Gamecocks in scoring to help fuel their offense. When he’s getting open and hitting his shots, South Carolina can play with just about anybody in the nation. Plus, the South Carolina Gamecocks could have the home crowd on their side in the first two rounds, as they’ll be playing just a short trip from their campus.
Reasons for concern: South Carolina certainly didn’t finish the year strong. After starting 20-5, the Gamecocks won just two of their final seven, and the wins were over decided non-tournament opponents Tennessee and Mississippi State. Conversely, Marquette stepped up its game as the season reached its ending, and the likely second-round opponent for South Carolina is Duke, the hottest team in the nation. The bracket is anything but favorable, despite the location.
Outlook: A month ago, South Carolina as a No. 7 seed would have seemed a little low. Now it seems kind of high. The Gamecocks aren’t on the level of some of the other No. 7 seeds, and they probably aren’t as good as either Wisconsin or Virginia Tech, the No. 8 and No. 9 seeds in the East. Whether the South Carolina Gamecocks are even as good as Marquette is a matter of debate, as it wouldn’t surprise many to see South Carolina exit after one game.
Readers, can South Carolina shake off the rust and get the year back on track? Or was the poor finish a sign of things to come? Sound off in the comments!
Commentary by Dan Angell