Final 4 Preview - Gonzaga vs. South Carolina
CINDERELLA TAKES THE DANCE FLOOR FIRST WHEN SOUTH CAROLINA PLAYS GONZAGA SATURDAY
This was supposed to be the game where Gonzaga (or Arizona) played Villanova...or Duke...or maybe a darkhorse like SMU. There's a darkhorse alright...but a darkhorse that's the hottest team in the tournament!
South Carolina is the only team in the Final Four that hasn't had to sweat a tight ending. They beat Marquette by 20, Duke by 7, Baylor by 20, and Florida by 7. Watch out Gonzaga...bad news if that pattern holds!
The Zags trailed West Virginia in the final minute before pulling out a win. We'll talk about North Carolina and Oregon next time. Both of those teams survived last second affairs vs. Kentucky and Michigan respectively. South Carolina has just been attacking with its defense and converting easy buckets in transition round by round against whoever was trying to get in their way.
Can they do that against the toughest opponent they've faced thus far? Let's run through the key handicapping stats to see how things might play out in the first game of Saturday's Final Four doubleheader.
Gonzaga: #1 at Kenpom, #1 at Sagarin
S. Carolina: #25 at Kenpom, #28 at Sagarin
College basketball stat guru Ken Pomeroy and USA Today computer whiz Jeff Sagarin agree that Gonzaga is the best team in the country this far. They surely dominated a weak conference during the regular season. And, they're still standing even tough South Dakota State, Northwestern, West Virginia, and Xavier isn't exactly a murderer's row. It's still possible that Gonzaga is an overrated team that's earned a fortunate draw (and won a coin flip over the other top notch team they've faced). South Carolina is clearly playing better than #25-28 in recent weeks. Does their Dance form reflect real improvement? Or, just the nature of what happens when good defenses run into offenses that get flustered easily?
Adjusted Offensive Efficiency
Gonzaga: 118.9 per 100 possessions (#14 in the nation)
S. Carolina: 108.5 per 100 possessions (#105 in the nation)
The reason Gonzaga is favored by so much lies on this side of the floor. Gonzaga has a variety of weapons, and an inside-out offense that makes it very difficult for opposing defenses to cover all the bases. South Carolina has been scoring better lately. But, that's largely because they've been forcing a lot of turnovers that set up easy points. If they don't get those easy points vs. Gonzaga...then they're going to get outscored pretty decisively.
Adjusted Defensive Efficiency
Gonzaga: 86.0 per 100 possessions (#1 in the nation)
S. Carolina: 87.9 per 100 possessions (#2 in the nation)
That's right...the two best defensive teams in the country when you adjust for strength of schedule and pace. Now, Pomeroy's methodology may not adjust enough for strength of schedule, which is why some are skeptical that Gonzaga's defense is "really" this good. They're certainly tough to score on inside because of their height. South Carolina's tough because it's hard to get it inside...and then they still challenge hard.
S. Carolina: #138
Gonzaga likes to push tempo, which is odd for a team with talented bigs. They definitely make it work for them. That could be troublesome here though because South Carolina forces mistakes at tempo. They don't mind a fast pace...it just gives them more passes to intercept! Looks like the whole ballgame will come down to how well Gonzaga can protect the ball at speed. If they score easy ones, but don't allow any...then it's a double digit win. But, if they get sloppy...and are in fact an "overrated" team that's getting sloppy...then Frank Martin and his Gamecocks could very well be playing in Monday night's final.
Against the Spread
S. Carolina: 15-16-2
You regulars should already know that Gonzaga has been money this season. Though, the win over Xavier was their first clean cover of the Dance. The 3-point win over West Virginia was a push in most places. South Carolina was overrated by the markets until very recently. In the Dance, they've covered with ease because they were pick-em with Marquette and dogs in the other three games we outlined earlier.