Final Four weekend is finally upon us and what started as a 68 team field, is now whittled down to four. However this is not the Final 4 you would have expected when you first saw the brackets.
The first game, features a high scoring Gonzaga bunch led by coach Mark Few who is taking his team to the schools first ever Final Four. They will be opposed by the underdog Gamecocks from Colombia, South Carolina who were doubted ever step of the way but remarkably have put them selves in a position to win a national title. This is in big thanks to their “danger” zone defense and above average outside shooting. This is also USC’s first ever appearance in the Final four, so history will be made either way. If you read about this match up in the newspaper you would not think that this is by any stretch a Final Four pairing. However that is what makes it so intriguing. Few would have expected this semi-final two weeks ago when the field was announced.
How They Got Here.
Gonzaga came into the tournament with a 32-1 record earning them a one seed in this years tournament. That being said, many were still hesitant to put them in their Final Four for two main reasons. One, their schedule has been consistently soft throughout the year opposed to the other power 5 schools and two for the last decade they have had great regular seasons but have always come up short in the big dance. They knew they were going to have to prove themselves worthy of the top slot and they did not disappoint.
Their first game was a dominating win over the sixteen seed South Dakota State as expected. In the second round on Saturday they faced Chris Collins’, Northwestern Wildcats who were making their first ever tournament appearance. Gonzaga controlled the whole game , fended off a late run and ended up advancing to the Sweet 16. They would than go on to face West Virgina who’s press is so rigorous it is known as “40 minutes in hell”. Boy was that evident for most of the game. At one point I thought Gonzaga was done, they kept turning the ball over and the press was clearly too much to handle . This team proved they were not like their predecessors though. They continued to battle and thanks to a clutch late 3 point field goal by Jordan Mathews, Gonzaga prevailed 81-78, thus advancing to the Elite 8.
They were now one win away, from the Final Four and a special place in their storied programs history. Standing in their way however, was Cinderella story Xavier, the 11 seed who pulled off a string of upsets to get to the regional final. Gonzaga proved that clearly they were the better team . They absolutely obliterated the Musketeers 83-59 and when the buzzer sound it was the Bulldogs time to dance! For the first time in school history they had broken through the Elite 8 barrier and were going to the Final 4.
For South Carolina , their story is one that NOBODY would expect. They came into the season as a 7 seed and only 0.4 percent of the millions of people who filled out brackets had USC going to the Final 4. They started their journey against a talented Marquette team and thanks to a huge second half surge led by Chris Silvia, they would survive and advance to a Second Round match up with the powerhouse Duke Blue Devils. As a Duke fan , it is very hard for me to talk about this game , but South Carolina was clearly the better team that night and deserved to win the game . As they traveled to the Mecca of all arenas, Madison Square Garden for the Sweet Sixteen, they would face a hot Baylor Bear team who was heavily favored. But South Carolina was fearless and would punch the Bears right in the mouth . They dominated the game and advanced to their first ever Elite Eight . They would face the Gators from Gainesville who came off of an exhilarating buzzer beater win against Wisconsin. The game would be back and forth for most of the night but a late surge and late shutdown defense, allowed the Gamecocks to prevail and punch their ticket to the Final Four in Phoenix .
So now here we are, four remain. These two teams are going to be very nervous early and that will lead to sloppy play in the first half. This will leave Gonzaga with a slight edge at halftime. In the second half I think that USC’s Zone will be too much for Gonzaga to handle though and a late push will lead South Carolina to their first ever national title appearance on Monday night. No matter what the outcome may be though, it is sure to be a classic match up of a high power offense against a stout defense. It is sure going to be fun to watch.
Players to watch : South Carolina Chris Silvia, Sindarius Thornwell Gonzaga: Nigel Williams-Goss, Jonathan Williams, Pzemek Karnowski
South Carolina: 72
Gonzaga : 68