Gonzaga and South Carolina's Final Four matchup gives us one of the best defensive battles we've seen in the NCAA Tournament. The Gamecocks come in with the best defensive efficiency among all major conference teams (91 points allowed per 100 possessions), while the Bulldogs showcase the best defensive efficency in the entire country (86 points per 100 possessions).
Don't worry, there's plenty of offensive talent in this game as well, so here arethe names and numbers you'll need to know.
Key to the Matchup – South Carolina
Everyone knows South Carolina has a vicious defense, but the extent of the havoc the Gamecockscause is pretty remarkable. The Gamecocks forced 68 turnovers in the first four rounds of the NCAA Tournament (17 per game), which is the most by any team through that stage over the last 10 years. Sindarius Thornwell and PJDozier (also the two leading scorers) have been the strongest contributorswith 14 steals combined thus far.
Frank Martin’s crew has rattled opponents into a 21.2 turnover percentage on the season, which ranks second among major conference teams behind only the “Press” Virginia Mountaineers, who forced Gonzaga into coughing it up 16 times during their Sweet 16 matchup. South Carolina is 16-5 this season when forcing at least 16 takeaways.
Key to the Matchup – Gonzaga
The Zags have thrived all year thanks in part to some stellar shooting that manifested in a 50.9 field goal percentage, good for second-best in the country. But the stroke has abandoned them in the NCAA Tournament, as that number has dipped to 43.2 percent, mostly because of all four of their guards shooting below 40 percent from the field.
For comparison, none of the other Final Four teams have more than two regulars shooting below 40 percent, and South Carolina has none. It won’t be easy for Nigel Williams-Goss (31 percent) and Jordan Mathews (36 percent) to regain the touch against the aforementioned ferocious Gamecocks defense, which is holding opponents to 39.9 percent shooting through the first four rounds.
Key Performer – South Carolina
Who else but Thornwell here?Heading into the NCAA Tournament, Sinderalla was already the first major conference player since 2004 to average at least 20 points, five rebounds and two steals per game over a full season.
Now, he’s on the shortlist of playersover the last 20 tournaments to average at least 25 points per gamethrough the Final Four. The other seven – Jay Williams, Juan Dixon, Caron Butler, Steph Curry, Blake Griffin, Tyler Zeller and Buddy Hield – were all top-20 picks in the NBA Draft, five of them selected in the top-10. With a strong finish Thornwellcan climb into the five highest-scoring tourney performances of the expanded bracket era, within striking distance of Dixon at No. 3 with 155 points.
Key Performer – Gonzaga
Gonzaga’s steadiest – and probablyleast-heralded – player in the tournament has been Missouri transfer Johnathan Williams. The 6-9 junior forward has nearly averaged a double-double since mid-February, settling into a comfort zone after an inconsistent first 25 games of the season. He’s posted 11.5 points, 7.8 rebounds and 1.5 blocks on 56 percent shooting over the first four rounds, including an impressive 19-point, 8-rebound, 3-block performance against Xavier.
Williams could be the Zags' saving grace against South Carolina's defense, which appearsmost vulnerable to active big men, allowing 14 points to Amile Jefferson (Duke), 18 to Johnathan Motley (Baylor) and 18 to Justin Leon (Florida). Just hope Williams doesn’t have to do it at the free throw line, where he’s made just 6 of 19 attempts.
Key NCAA Tournament Stats – South Carolina
Points Scored Per Game: 82.0
Field Goal Pct:47.6
Points Allowed Per Game: 68.5
Opponent Field Goal Pct: 39.9
Opponent 3-Point Pct:33.0
Key NCAA Tournament Stats – Gonzaga
Points Scored Per Game: 72.3
Field Goal Pct: 43.2
3-Point Pct: 35.0
Points Allowed Per Game: 59.0
Opponent Field Goal Pct: 33.7
Opponent 3-Point Pct: 24.1