For most College Basketball programs, making the Sweet 16 is a tremendous achievement as well as a golden opportunity. That is certainly the case for South Carolina and Baylor, who will duke it out for a spot in the Elite 8 in their third round matchup. This is one of the biggest games in either program’s history, and fittingly it’s being played in Madison Square Garden this Friday night. In fact, a game of such proportions is packed with more excitement and emotion then one single writer could ever capture. So with that in mind we brought in Baylor student Austin Brown and Student Union’s resident Gamecock fan Liam Smith to breakdown this Sweet 16 matchup for the ages.
The Gamecock Perspective – Liam Smith
Let me start off by saying that this is THE most important game in South Carolina basketball history. It’s been 13 long years since the Gamecocks have had the opportunity to play in the NCAA tournament and on top of that, the last time they were in the Sweet 16 was 1974. A win over Baylor on Friday night would bring South Carolina to a new degree of relevance in the College Basketball world. No one understands this more then head coach Frank Martin AKA currently the most intense man in the Big Dance.
Along with his ability to put the fear of god in someone with a slight glance, Frank Martin also deserves some praise for this phenomenal Gamecock squad he has built. Of this squad, the biggest name that comes to mind is senior Sindarius Thornwell. He was unreal during the regular season and had everybody talking about him before the Big Dance. He has not disappointed so far as he is averaging 26 points and 8.5 rebounds after his first two tournament games. He is also shooting 50 percent from three, going 3-6 from behind the arc in both games. Thornwell was instrumental in South Carolina’s shocking upset over the second seeded Duke Blue Devils that sent them to the Sweet 16. In that game Sin City recorded 24 points, 6 rebounds and 5 assists while playing against one of the toughest teams in the nation.
With two solid performances in the books, the Baylor Bears will certainly be adjusting their game plan to account for Thornwell…the only problem is that will leave plenty of room for the rest of South Carolina’s weapons. While Sin City has definitely stolen the show so far, everyone is contributing on this Gamecocks team. Senior guard Duane Notice and sophomore forward Chris Silva both recorded 17 points in their last win against Duke. Also be sure to keep an eye on Freshman guard Rakym Felder who has provided a real spark off the bench for the Gamecocks in these tournament games. Felder recorded 15 points, 4 rebounds and 3 assists in his 21 minutes of play against Duke and providing South Carolina with some much needed depth.
Looking back at that game, it’s no secret how South Carolina beat Duke…They spread the ball out enough to keep their offense unpredictable (5 different players scoring between 11 and 24 points), forced plenty of turnovers and out-rebounded their opponent. If the Gamecocks are able to do that against the Baylor Bears, I’m very confident that they will be able to pull off yet another upset and make their way to the Elite 8. With that being said, I expect to see a very scrappy game where the Gamecocks will look to capitalize on defense. South Carolina is ranked fourth in the nation in forced turnovers, and even Baylor fans know that the Bears aren’t the best at holding onto the ball. South Carolina is a very athletic team, and this athleticism allows them to create turnovers, maximize possession time, and create plenty of scoring opportunities. If all of that is clicking, the game is going to come down to whether or not the Gamecocks can hit their shots. Basically, if South Carolina’s shooting performances in the first two rounds are any indication of how they will shoot in the Sweet 16, then my co-worker Austin Brown and the Baylor Bears should be very worried.
Final Score: South Carolina 83, Baylor 76
The Baylor Perspective – Austin Brown
We still suck. That three word slogan has been our rallying cry all year. Baylor got all of ZERO votes in the AP preseason poll, but nine weeks later we were the #1 ranked team in the country. Everyone said we were a fraud when we stumbled a bit in conference play, and it was a foregone conclusion that this year would end in early tournament heartbreak as the last two year had. Despite all that, here we are. The Baylor Bears are now the highest remaining seed in the East Regional and sit two games away from their first Final Four appearance since 1950.
Let me start by saying the fact that Frank Martin has had an entire week to prepare for Scott Drew absolutely terrifies me. They used to coach against each other at least once a year when Martin was at Kansas State, so there isn’t much Drew can throw at him that would surprise him. That being said, I love think this matchup heavily favors Baylor.
Let’s get into some advanced statistics for a moment. When South Carolina has the ball, they have the #121 ranked offense in the country taking on the #13 defense in the country. When Baylor has the ball, it’s the #19 offense taking on the #4 defense. I like those odds. Baylor as a team also grabs offensive rebounds on 40% of their missed shots, and they’re going up against a South Carolina squad that is far-and-away the worst defensive rebounding team left in the tournament. Johnathan Motley and Joe Lual-Acuil are bigger than anyone South Carolina has, and I anticipate them having a great night on the boards.
The one obvious advantage the Gamecocks have is Sindarius Thornwell. He was SEC Player of the Year for a reason, dude can flat out ball. I think if South Carolina wants to have a shot at winning this game, Thornwell is going to have to replicate his performances against Marquette and Duke. Baylor all year has been able to handle teams like South Carolina who rely heavily on one player for the majority of their offense. The teams Baylor has struggled against have been teams with a balanced scoring attack and a deep bench full of big men who aren’t afraid of getting in foul trouble. South Carolina has neither of those things. I’m assuming Ish Wainwright will be glued to Thornwell for the majority of the game tonight, and he has proven time and again that he is more than capable of locking down elite scorers. Just ask Juwan Evans or Monte Morris how frustrating Wainwright can be.
The final key to a Baylor victory may seem obvious, but it has been a major concern the last two games. Johnathan Motley needs to stay out of foul trouble. He picked up two moving screen fouls in the first ten minutes against New Mexico State that sent him to the bench for the rest of the first half, and he fouled out against USC after a tremendous acting job questionable charge call with 1:39 left in the game. If Motley can stay on the floor, I have a feeling he is in for a monster night.
Everything about this matchup points to Baylor winning, but if the last two years have taught me anything, it’s to be cautiously optimistic when it comes to Scott Drew in March. That being said, we ain’t losing this game.
Final score: Baylor 71, South Carolina 66