Raise your hands if you had the Gonzaga Bulldogs against the South Carolina Gamecocks in your Final Four. Anyone? Well, neither did I, which makes this match up extremely intriguing and fun. Both schools are making their first appearance in the national semifinals. Here are three key matchups to look for in this battle.
1. Backcourts vs. perimeter defenses
Gonzaga and South Carolina have ridden their runs to the Final Fout due to defense. The Bulldogs only allow 86 points per 100 possessions, while the Gamecocks surrender 87.9 points in the same measure. It will put a lot of pressure on the backcourt stars for both teams. Nigel Williams-Goss and Sindarius Thornwell rightly receive the most attention, but it isn’t just them. Josh Perkins and Jordan Matthews will be key for the Bulldogs. Duane Notice, P.J. Dozier, and Raykm Felder need to give Thornwell a necessary steady hand. As good as these defenses are, it stands to reason Williams-Goss and Thornwell will get their points. But with the strength of both of these defenses on the perimeter, the secondary backcourt scorers for both teams will be crucial.
2. Gonzaga’s three-point shooting vs. South Carolina’s three-point defense
The Bulldogs are not an elite offensive team from distance. They’re effective when they shoot the three, connecting on 37.8% of their attempts. However, they don’t put up a ton of threes. The Bulldogs have scored 26.2% of their total points from behind the arc, which ranks 275th in the country. Still, their four primary perimeter players have all made at least 40 threes this season while hitting at least 36.7% of their attempts. South Carolina’s defense could make life tough for those shooters. The Gamecocks have held their opponents to only 30.1% shooting. In their second-round win over Duke, Luke Kennard and Grayson Allen combined to go 4-for-14 from behind the arc. Marquette was only 11-for-28 in its first-round loss to South Carolina. Lastly, Michigan made just two of its 26 attempts from distance while scoring 46 points in a Thanksgiving-week loss to South Carolina.
3. Prezmek Karnowski and Zach Collins vs. Maik Kotsar and Chris Silva
Gonzaga is the as clear favorite in this national semifinal. One of the reasons why is because of their huge advantage in the paint. To put it simply, South Carolina may not have an answer for Karnowski and, to a much lesser extent, Collins. Both Karnowski and Collins have been ruthlessly efficient. Karnowski shoots at a 60 percent clip, and Collins at 68 percent. It is that type of efficiency that can keep an offense humming, even if the shots from distance aren’t falling. Kotsar and Silva get the majority of the frontcourt minutes for South Carolina. They just don’t measure up to Karnowski and Collins. If one of them gets in foul trouble, the Gamecocks will be in serious trouble.