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Marquette Basketball NCAA Tournament Preview Primer: vs South Carolina Gamecocks

YOUR Golden Eagles kick off the 2017 national championship tournament with a trip to the Palmetto State to tangle with the Gamecocks.

NCAA Football: East Carolina at South Carolina
Wait, Cocky has an extended family?
Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

2017 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament First Round

#7 South Carolina Gamecocks (22-10) vs #10 Marquette Golden Eagles (19-12)

When: Friday, March 17, 2017, at 8:50pm Central
Where: Bon Secours Wellness Arena in Greenville, South Carolina
Television: TBS
Streaming: March Madness Live
Radio: 540 ESPN Milwaukee
Live Stats: GameTracker

Marquette Stat Leaders

Points: Markus Howard, 13.2 ppg
Rebounds: Luke Fischer, 5.9 rpg
Assists: Jajuan Johnson, 2.7 apg

South Carolina Stat Leaders

Points: Sindarius Thornwell, 21.0 ppg
Rebounds: Sindarius Thornwell, 7.2 rpg
Assists: P.J. Dozier, 2.9 apg

Current KenPom Rankings

Marquette: #29
South Carolina: #32
KenPom Projection: Marquette has a 52% chance of victory, with a predicted score of 74-73.

Tempo Free Fun: This is going to be a weird game. When Marquette has the ball, it’s going to be a battle of the unstoppable force versus the immovable object. The Golden Eagles have KenPom’s eighth best offense in the country, but that’s countered by South Carolina having the third best defense.

Here’s some even worse news for Marquette: One of the cornerstones of USC’s defense is limiting their opponent’s three-point shooting. They’re allowing teams to shoot just 29.6% from long range against them, which is the 5th best defensive mark in the country. Conversely, Marquette is the absolute best three-point shooting team in the country, connecting on 43% of their attempts. That’s definitely a problem.

There is a bit of a caveat to this, namely that the SEC is a horrible shooting conference. As a league, they rank #26 out of 32 in three-point shooting and five of the 13 non-South Carolina teams in the league are below the long range efficiency break even point of 33.3%. A sixth is barely above it at 33.4%. You have to take all of that into account when you mention that the Gamecocks allowed SEC opponents to shoot 31.3% on threes. In 10 games against those six teams, South Carolina held them to just 30.7% from distance, including a three game span of two games against Tennessee and one against Mizzou where the opponents shot a combined - COMBINED - 3-for-41. That’s just 7%. Not a joke.

Still, though, you don’t have a season long number under 30% without doing something right. As the saying goes, something’s gotta give. If you want to take recent performance into account, there’s reason to believe that it’s South Carolina’s defense that’s going to be the one that breaks first. The Gamecocks have lost six of their last eight games. Across that stretch, including the two wins, opponents are shooting 35.5% against South Carolina, and that’s even with a 1-for-13 performance from Tennessee mixed in there. In four of the six losses, their opponent shot at least 35%. There’s not a significant absence due to injury or whatever that would explain the slip. Sindarius Thornwell is the only USC player that’s missed notable time this season, and that came back in December. They’re just suddenly not running people off the line as well any more.

The shooting thing is reason #1 why USC is a great defense. They also turn opponents over at an absurd rate, nearly a full one-quarter of the possessions. That’s nuts. Sindarius Thornwell and P.J. Dozier are both top 90 in the country in steal rate, and with those two guards standing 6’5” and 6’6”, aka “towering over Markus Howard and Andrew Rowsey,” that could end up being a significant problem for Marquette. MU has been good this season at holding onto the ball (#78 in the country in offensive turnover rate), and their turnover rate in conference play is essentially the same as their season long number. I know it seems awfully reductive, but the game plan on offense is simple: Hold onto the ball, knock down shots, win the game.

Lord only knows what’s going to happen when South Carolina has the ball. With the Gamecocks’ offense ranking #152 in the country according to KenPom and MU’s defense slotting in at #154, literally anything is possible. South Carolina is a HORRIBLE shooting team, ranking #316 in the country in effective field goal percentage, #244 in three-point shooting, and #318 in two-point shooting. Thornwell can be a problem for sure. His eFG% isn’t that special at 50%, but he’s knocking down 39% of his threes, and he takes more than four per game. MU will also need to keep an eye on Rakym Felder (41% on 2+ attempts/game) as well as Duane Notice (34%, 5+ attempts/game) just to make sure that they don’t suddenly get hot. Remember: the Golden Eagles are a horrible shooting defense team.

The Gamecocks will attempt to counter their awful shooting with really great offensive rebounding, and from playing Seton Hall three times this season, we know MU can get in trouble fast against good offensive rebounding teams. Yet once again, Marquette will have to deal with Thornwell on the offensive glass, where he’s one of the 500 best rebounders in the country. Chris Silva is in the top 125 when it comes to grabbing up his own team’s misses in terms of rate, but there’s an asterisk there. See, Silva has played in every game this season for South Carolina, but he’s been on the court for less than half of their minutes. See, he’s averaging nearly eight fouls per 40 minutes, and not surprisingly, he’s fouled out of 10 games this season, including four of USC’s last six losses.

Marquette Last 10 Games: 5-5, but with four wins in their last six games.

South Carolina Last 10 Games: 4-6 with losses in their last two games and five of their last seven.

All Time Series: Marquette leads, 12-4.

Current Streak: Marquette has won the last two meetings. South Carolina has not defeated Marquette since 1983.

Jajuan Johnson Watch: The senior from Memphis now has 57 swipes on the season, the seventh most by a Marquette senior. Up next is Dominic James’ mark of 62. He’s actually moved within seven steals of a tie for 10th most in program history, but he’s going to need at least two really great games (or one totally insane game) to get there. Johnson’s 355 points this season have him sitting on 997 career points, so he will hopefully become Marquette’s 47th 1,000 point scorer at some point in this game.

Luke Fischer Watch: Fischer has the 4th most blocks in program history with 151. I don’t think he’ll catch Faisal Abraham in third place with 172, though. Fischer’s 51 swats on the season has him ranked #4 all time in blocks for seniors, and he’s closing in on third place and Amal McCaskill with 55. The big man scored seven points against Seton Hall to push him to 342 points this season and 1,006 in his Marquette career, making him the 46th 1,000 point scorer in program history. Fischer is just the second player in Marquette history (Jim McIlvaine is the other) with 1,000 points, 500 rebounds, and 150 blocks.

Markus Howard Watch: The freshman from Arizona extended his freshman record for made three-pointers to 79. That’s the seventh most in a season by any Marquette player, passing Darius Johnson-Odom’s 77 in 2011-12. Matt Carlino’s 83 is up next and I suppose it wouldn’t be a total shock to see him catch Jerel McNeal’s 86 in 2008-09. Howard now has 144 three-point attempts on the season, which is the third most by a freshman, with Robb Logterman’s 148 next on the list. With 131 field goals on the year, Howard has tied Haanif Cheatham for eighth most by a freshman. Howard is up to 397 points on the season, which gives him the fourth most by a MU freshman. You’re going to need a fainting couch if he manages to catch Doc Rivers for third on Friday night, because Doc put up 434.

Sam Hauser Watch: Hey, remember when Hauser was neck and neck with Howard on the freshman three-pointer chart? Good times. With 61 made threes, Hauser only trails wherever Howard’s record happens to be at a given moment. Hauser has the 6th most long range attempts by a freshman with 135, and he’s coming up quickly on Dominic James at 136. The Stevens Point native has 19 blocks on the season, tying Charles Luter in sixth place by a freshman. Hauser has moved into the top six for rebounds by a freshman with 155 this season and he might be able to catch Odartey Blankson in fifth place with 160 against the Gamecocks.

Andrew Rowsey Watch: The transfer from UNC Asheville now has 69 made threes on the season, giving him the fourth most by a MU junior. Rowsey needs two more to catch Darius Johnson-Odom in third place, which seems doable against South Carolina. His 152 attempts this season are the seventh most by a junior, but he’s 10 away from Anthony Pieper for sixth.

Follow Along On Twitter

@MarquetteMBB - Official Marquette account
@GamecockMBB - Official South Carolina account
@AnonymousEagle - Hey, that’s us!
@GABAttack - SB Nation’s South Carolina site
@becb_sbn - SB Nation's Big East site
@TeamSpeedKills - SB Nation’s SEC site
@Matt_Velazquez - The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel MU beat reporter