If Marquette Golden Eagles is going to play their first NCAA tournament game in four seasons, then we’re going to have to have a chat with some people who know a thing or two about MU’s opponent: the South Carolina Gamecocks.
Thus, we got in touch with Chris Stanley from Garnet & Black Attack, our SB Nation sister site that focuses on all things South Carolina, to see what we could learn about their basketball team. Be sure to check out their site for our answers to their questions.
Let’s get to our questions, which will be in bold, and Chris’ answers which will be in ..... not... bold.......
This is South Carolina's first NCAA tournament appearance since 2004 and just the ninth in program history. What has been the reaction to the team's success on campus and around town?
Let me just say I'm jealous I graduated in 2014 and didn't get a chance to experience it. Frank Martin even acknowledged it in a press conference after the win over Florida that "the place is rockin’". If you go back to games in 2013 or 2012, Colonial Life Arena is half empty and the cameras are trying to avoid taking shots of the crowd.
Now you can't find an empty seat in the lower section come tip off. For Marquette fans this probably comes by as sounding ridiculous, but when football rules the south and the school's baseball team is consistently one of the ten best in the country -- basketball inevitably takes a backseat. However, that hasn't been the case for the past two seasons, and as a basketball fan I couldn't be happier to see the renaissance.
Frank Martin was hired to replace former Marquette assistant Darrin Horn back in 2012. He made it to four NCAA tournaments in his five seasons at Kansas State, but this is his first time dancing with the Gamecocks. Is there any sense that his tenure in Columbia has been a bit of a letdown, or has his progress since taking over a 10-21 squad been enough for South Carolina fans?
It depends on who you talk to. There are plenty of Gamecock fans like myself who are simply happy to be where we are. Hoops has been almost irrelevant at Carolina since the 70's and to even be mentioned as a top-25 team is special. On the other hand, there are a strong contingency of fans who feel entitled to Final Four level basketball now that South Carolina has been in the tournament conversation the past two years.
Some loons have even called for his head since the team's been one-and-done in the SEC tournament two years in a row. Horn didn't exactly leave the program in a great place, and what Martin's been able to do in his time with the Gamecocks has been incredible in my eyes. Like I said, there are some who'll disagree but overall, I think we're happy with what Martin's done with the program.
Funny story: I was actually in Columbia for about two hours this past summer on the way down to Myrtle Beach for a vacation. We ended up driving past Colonial Life Arena and I suddenly realized that Frank Martin had driven across the street in front of us in a golf cart. I didn't realize it was him right away because he was smiling and waving at the time. Anyway, the point is: we went to the Flying Saucer in town because we recognized the name from visits to other FS locations. What high quality spot did we miss out on in Columbia for a beer and a burger?
Funny you mention Martin. He gets a bad reputation for being a hard-ass because of his on court temper. However, off of the court, you'll never meet a nicer guy. When I was in student media, he was always willing to answer our questions and even asked us what we wanted to do with our careers once we graduated.
But I digress, the Flying Saucer is a solid spot to wet your whistle in Columbia. As for a more local affair, Pawley's Front Porch in the Five Points area has the best burgers in Columbia in my opinion. All of the burgers have a Palmetto State theme to them, and the happy hour is hard to beat. My personal favorite on their menu is the Beaufort Burger: Onion rings doused in Franks Red Hot sauce, fried egg, apple cured ham and cheddar cheese on a pretzel bun.
Looking at it from the outside, it appears that Sindarius Thornwell has made a huge jump in his play since last season while not really increasing his minutes. What's been the biggest thing that he's been doing better or differently compared to his first three seasons for the Gamecocks?
Simple: Efficiency. Thornwell has learned over the course of three years that his best shots are the catch-and-shoot three and driving the lane hard for easy two's. In the past, Thornwell often tried too hard to create his own shot or try and settle on mid-range jumpers. It's been really fun as a fan to watch Thornwell grow in his basketball IQ over the years and turn into the cerebral player he is today. You can make the legit argument that outside Alex English he's the best player to ever walk through South Carolina.
As the team's leading scorer and rebounder, Thornwell is clearly the star of the team. You don't get a #7 seed in the tournament on accident though, so who has been Robin to Thornwell's Batman? Who is the Glue Guy for South Carolina?
Funny you bring that up. The answer I have is probably not going to satisfy because I really don't know who that guy is. It's been one of the issues that's plagued South Carolina down the stretch of the season. Thornwell has pretty much had to do everything for the team because no one has been able to step up and play second banana. It's been a revolving door between Duane Notice, P.J. Dozier, and Chris Silva -- yet none of the three have been able to consistently put together two good games in a row.
Notice was the SEC Sixth Man of the Year a year ago but is going through a senior slump -- his three point shooting has dropped from 38.9 percent last year to 33.9 percent this season. Dozier is a good defender and has his moments on offense, but too often will put up the 3-for-12 game and is a horrendous foul shooter. Silva is an-uber athletic center who put down some emphatic dunks and blocks but averages almost four fouls a game.
Even though they're the #7 seed in the region, South Carolina gets to play somewhat of a home game with this contest taking place in Greenville. Do you expect a raucous pro-Gamecocks crowd in attendance, or do you think the Duke fans with tickets to see the Blue Devils will stick around to cheer for Steve Wojciechowski, the former Duke player and assistant coach that's now steering the ship for Marquette?
I fully expect the house to be packed with pro-Gamecock supporters. Even though the game is technically in Clemson territory, it takes place late on a Friday night -- giving folks in Columbia plenty of time to drive the hour and 40 minutes when they get off work to come up. Not to mention there's a strong Gamecock contingent in the Upstate who I'm sure are more than happy to shill out the dollars for a chance to watch the Gamecocks possibly make history.
As for the second part of that question, I would also expect a healthy Duke crowd to stick around after their game. There are plenty of Duke fans in the Upstate and Greenville is a three and a half hour drive from the Raleigh-Durham area. In all, I would expect Bon Secours Wellness Arena to be packed for both games to provide a top-notch atmosphere.
Prediction time! Who's winning this thing, what's the final score, and what's the X-factor that will decide South Carolina's fate?
This is a really intriguing game with the best three-point shooting team matched up against the fifth best three-point defense in South Carolina. I think this comes town to the size of the guards. Both of Marquette's best scorers are under six feet tall, and Thornwell and Dozier and both six foot five plus.
The X-factor for the Gamecocks will be Dozier. He has to take advantage of his size and get into the paint to give South Carolina at least 15 points to take some pressure of Thornwell. I think the spread on this game is right where it should be a -2, and I think South Carolina wins by just a hair 68-65.