Coming into this tournament, no one really gave the University of South Carolina a chance, and for good reasons. This was a team with a horrible past with basketball. They only had 4 tournament wins in their history, they haven’t been in the big dance in 13 years, and they haven’t even won a game in 44 years! Now, would you pick a team with that history to get to the Final Four, while having to go through the likes of an upstart Marquette team, the winningest basketball coach in Coach K, a tough well rounded Baylor team, or a team that beats you 8 out of 10 times and sometimes bad? No? Well majority of the people are right there with you, including me. Well, majority of people would be wrong. The Gamecocks beat all four of these great teams to earn an appearance into their first ever Final Four.
It’s weird when you think about it. Coming into the tournament, this team was 2-5 over their last 7 games, including the SEC tournament, with a weak defense and not scoring well, and they come into the tournament and beat Marquette and Baylor by 20 points each, and beat Duke and Florida by 7 points also. Yes, the amount they won by is impressive, but the fact that they beat all four of those teams is what is more impressive than anything else. What most people are shocked about, including myself, is that during the Duke game, the Gamecocks were down by 7 at the half after shooting 7-35 overall, then coming into the second half and just going off on both ends of the floor allowing them to put up 65 points on the Blue Devils to win 88-81.
Entering the Sweet 16 match up against Baylor, the Gamecocks were not favored even after beating Duke. You could tell by watching this team that the Gamecocks are out to prove that they belong. Like I said before, this team has a bad past with basketball, and only 4 NCAA tournament wins, and had not been to the tournament in over a decade. When the team fell behind 15-13 about half way through the first half, it seemed like something clicked for this team, and they ran away with the game, going on an 18-0 run and a lead that would only get as close as 11 points. They would end up winning by 20 and holding Baylor to 50 points, which is well below their season average.
That brings us to today. The Elite 8 match up against a familiar foe in the Florida Gators. Entering this game, the Gamecocks were 2-8 in their last 10 games against Florida and losing by an average of 13.3 points per game, but this team was out to prove that they belong. The first half though, it seemed like the magic had worn off and that this would be the end of the line for these Gamecocks, but it was just the same story as the other 2 comeback wins. The defense woke up and was hungry for gator meat, and held them to 0/14 from 3 in the second half after they hit 7/12 from 3 in the first half. The Gamecocks wound up taking the Gators down and are not giving up just yet.
This Gamecocks team will not stop until they prove that they belong in the tournament more. Even if this team falls to Gonzaga in the Final Four, I truly believe that Coach Martin and his staff will have this team back in the big dance next year, even with the seniors leaving including SEC player of the year, Sindarius Thornwell. Coach Martin has done such an amazing job since taking over for the 2012-13 season, and leading us from a dumpster fire of a team that only won 10 games the year prior, to appearing in the Final Four only 6 years later! Coach Martin will lead us to a title one day, I believe it. To answer my own question, in my opinion yes, the Gamecocks are for real now.