Conference: SEC (at-large)
Record: 22-10 (12-6)
NCAA Tournament Seed: 7 (East)
How they got to the Big Dance
Many questioned Frank Martin when he took the job at South Carolina, looking at it as a step down from his previous job at Kansas State. The program was struggling and nowhere near the NCAA tournament. Despite this, in his fifth season at South Carolina, he was able to guide the Gamecocks to the Big Dance. This is South Carolina’s first tournament appearance since 2004.
This year’s team finished tied for third in the SEC with Arkansas, finishing behind both Kentucky and Florida. Led by Senior Sindarius Thornwell, who averages 21 points per game, South Carolina grabbed their signature win Jan. 18 against Florida. South Carolina grabbed four other RPI top 50 wins, with one coming against hot Big Ten team Michigan.
Why they’re a legitimate contender
Being in the tournament for the first time since 2004 will have South Carolina playing with house money. Playing with nothing to lose can be dangerous for opponents, as we see every year with the crazy upsets that happen in the NCAA tournament.
South Carolina winning a couple games in the tournament wouldn’t be an upset, especially when the Gamecocks have Sindarius Thornwell, PJ Dozier and Duane Notice. All three players average over ten points per game.
Also, since Frank Martin has NCAA tournament experience with Kansas State, he will be able to provide advice to his players. None of his players have played in a tournament game in a South Carolina uniform.
Why they’re not a legitimate contender
The Gamecocks have really struggled to end the season. Since their Feb. 4 win against Georgia, South Carolina has lost six of nine games. Three of those six losses came to teams outside the RPI top 50.
South Carolina is also not the most efficient offensive team. They are No. 202 in scoring, averaging only 72.1 points a game. They also rank No. 239 in assists, only averaging 12.6 assists a game. This shows a reliance on players creating their own shot. If their top scorer, Sindarius Thornwell, is off, they will struggle to put the ball in the basket.
Player to watch: G Sindarius Thornwell
The senior from Lancaster, S.C. is the SEC’s leading scorer at 21 points per game. Despite missing six games during the end of South Carolina’s nonconference slate, he did not experience any post-injury slump. Most notably, Thornwell had 44 points in a four overtime loss to Alabama on Feb. 7.
His 6-foot-5 211-pound frame, as a guard, allows him to drive to the rim through traffic as well as rise above the defense and shoot. Thornwell could single-handedly win a game for South Carolina in the tournament. And as a senior, he will do anything in his power to do so.