Just like most March’s, there is always that one surprise team who comes out of nowhere and makes a fantastic run throughout the tournament by beating some of the best teams in the field. This March was no different. Coming into the tournament, the Gamecocks of South Carolina were not given much of a chance to get very far through the tournament, especially with Duke most likely waiting in the second round if they did pass an offensive power in Marquette. Out of nowhere this basketball team, who basically limped into the tournament by going 3-6 in the final 9 games of the season including the conference tournament, and was believed to be over seeded, won and won impressively. The way this team played showed that they deserve to be there this year and possibly for years to come.
Throughout the tournament, this team embodied what their fierce coach, Frank Martin, preached, and that is defense. This team was one of the best defensive teams in the country during the regular season, but as the season went on, there were signs that the defense was starting to fade. This team’s defense was a major reason they could win at least 20 games for the second straight year, but when the defense was fading, this team couldn’t win much. The offense for the Gamecocks was mostly built through the defense, but the team took a hit when the defense slipped. So of course, no one would think a team like this would make a run like they did.
This team got something to click coming into the tournament, where not only did their defense came back vigorously, but also their offense found life. Not only was the team lead by Frank Martin, they were also led by senior point guard, Sindarius Thornwell, who won the SEC player of the year. Through the first four games, Sindarius averaged more than 24 points a game and was big on the defense by disrupting plays and helped turn defense into offense. Thornwell fed off his coach’s fire throughout the tournament, and his teammates fed off him. Even though this team will lose Thornwell, as well as Duane Notice and Justin McKie, who are also seniors, it’s still loaded with talented players who could also lead this team after learning from the seniors.
This team was trying to become the first 7 seed to win a title since UCONN won it all back in the 2014 tournament. To put into perspective how impressive this run was for the team, this was only the 8th time that a team seeded 7th or lower has reached the Final Four since 2000, and out of the previous 7 times, only one team has managed to get back to the Final Four. All but one of the previous teams managed to get into some sort of postseason tournament, and out of the ten total teams who managed to get to the Final Four as a low seed, only half improved their record. The question is, can the Gamecocks beat the odds and get back to the Final Four or will history repeat and the Gamecocks either get knocked out early or miss it entirely.
Sadly, as most runs end, so did the Gamecocks amazing run when they met up with the Bulldogs of Gonzaga in the Final Four. Even though they would not get passed Gonzaga, these tough and gritty Gamecocks did not give up and were so close to upsetting one of the best teams in the brackets. Although they would lose by 4 to the Bulldogs, they had a furious comeback when they were down by 14 at one point during the second half.
This run through the tournament tells me that this team is moving in the right direction and will be back next year trying to recreate the magic that they had this time. The big question is, how close are they to really competing for a National Championship and being a big-time basketball program. The signs are there that show that they are moving in the right direction and that Coach Martin is the type of coach that will lead them there. Even if there is no championship for the men’s team, this is a successful season and a big step forward for the program in the eyes of many of the Gamecock faithful, who stayed during the losing and heartache in most of the decade.