Many crucial keys when Gamecocks face Gonzaga and Ducks battle Tar Heels

In 2017 NCAA Tournament, ACC, Pac-12, SEC, WCC by Ken Cross

By David Sisk

South Carolina vs Gonzaga

Two Physical Teams – South Carolina has caught a break thus far with the tournament scheduling. Let’s face it, basketball is all about matchups. Marquette was bad defensively, Duke was tired from four games in four days during the ACC Tournament, and they were six deep with a predominately perimeter oriented lineup. Florida could match the Gamecocks in physicality, but the overtime classis against Wisconsin, drained them physically and mentally. Gonzaga is fresh, they’re big on the back line, and they hang their hat on defense. This game won’t be for the faint of heart.

South Carolina’s scoring – Frank Martin’s crew has averaged 82 points offensively in the Big Dance. Gonzaga has given up 59 per game. When Carolina scores 70, they are 18-3. They aren’t a great outside shooting team, and the hardnosed group does most of their damage on penetration. The hurdle here is the Zags have 7-foot-1 Przemek Karnowski, 6-foot-11 Jacob Larsen, 6-foot-10 Killian Tillie, and 6-foot-9 Johnathan Williams protecting the rim. The Cocks must make outside shots, and also need perimeter scoring from other than Sindarius Thornwell. Duane Notice and P.J. Dozier were huge Sunday versus the Gators. They will need to continue the output. Look for South Carolina to push the ball, convert defense into offense, and bring Karnowski out from the bucket with ball screens.

Ball protection versus Carolina’s defense – The Gamecocks are simply incredible on the defensive end. At times it seems like there are seven players on the floor at once with their tenaciousness and willingness to make several extra plays per possession. The previous game one can compare to was the Sweet Sixteen game when Gonzaga played “Press” Virginia. The Bulldogs had 16 turnovers in that affair. Each miscue usually averages to between 1 and 1.5 points per occasion. That many turnovers could lead to an extra 25 points for South Carolina. Their defense is different than West Virginia’s despite the media’s portrait. The Mountaineers were a run and jump press team. The Gamecocks play man and will extend it into the backcourt. Expect Martin to put in some press looks though. If he can capitalize on shaky ball handling, his squad will have a huge advantage.

Gonzaga’s matchup on Thornwell – The Zags aren’t blessed with big wings. They have huge posts that we have previously mentioned, and guards that are all in the 6-foot-3 to 6-foot-4 range. The closest starter to the 6-foot-5, 211 pound Thornwell is Jordan Matthews at 6-foot-4 and 203 pounds. Thornwell also loves to post so Mark Few’s troops will have to depend on team defense and the big back line.

Oregon vs North Carolina

North Carolina’s size – The elephant in the room is the Tar Heels have an NBA sized roster. They start four players 6-foot-6 or bigger and three at 6-foot-8. They push the ball, but the interesting thing is they play up-tempo with their size. They don’t jack up threes either. They go inside and utilize their advantage. Oregon has also been able to skate by in the tournament so far, as they haven’t faced a strong low post game. That ends Saturday. The Duck’s are without Chris Bouchet, and this could be where the injury is exposed. Jordan Bell has been tremendous, but there isn’t a lot of depth. It could be catastrophic if he gets in foul trouble. 6-foot-11, Kavell-Bigby Williams will have to come off the bench and play the game of his life.

Oregon’s changing defenses – Dana Altman was totally able to throw a monkey wrench into the frenetic offensive pace that Kansas ran with an array of half court defenses. The constant switching from man to zone put the Jayhawks on their heels, from which they never recovered. This strategy not only led to a lower shooting percentage, but made Kansas play in the half court, where they were not comfortable. They will look to do the same thing to North Carolina’s pace of play, but once again, the Heels are a different animal. Don’t look for them to take as many quick threes as Kansas did. They will pound the ball inside. Also, the weakness of a zone is defensive rebounding. Carolina is elite in crashing the boards. That cat and mouse game will be fascinating.

Matching up with Tyler Dorsey and Dillon Brooks – Josh Jackson was tremendous Sunday denying and guarding Malik Monk. Despite being much bigger, the 6-foot-8 defender gave up nothing in quickness to the Kentucky scorer. Joel Berry also never let De’Aaron Fox get into rhythm. Oregon offers one of the top scoring duos of their own that is different than what the Wildcats displayed. Fox is a point guard and Monk is a wing. This was a natural matchup for Berry and Jackson. Dorsey is 6-foot-5, and Brooks is 6-foot-7, and both are wings. Oregon features a smaller lineup in which Brooks plays the four spot. Roy Williams will have to figure out a lineup in which he does not have a 6-foot-9 big one of these prolific perimeter scorers. If he does go smaller off his bench to matchup, how will that impact their size advantage on the offensive end? The best fit will be to play 6-foot-6 Kennedy Meeks on Dorsey, while Jackson moves to the four and takes Brooks. Nevertheless, this will bite into the Tar Heels’ size advantage.