Opposites attract, and two contrasting teams will be meeting on the same court on Friday night. No. 10-seeded Marquette (19-12, 10-8 Big East) will take on seventh-seeded South Carolina (22-10, 12-6 SEC) in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament.
Winner moves onto the round of 32, where they face either Duke or Troy.
How to watch, listen, and stream
Game Time: Friday, March 17, 2017, at 9:50 p.m. ET
RADIO: Westwood One (National Radio), ESPN 540 Milwaukee (Marquette)
Live Stream: March Madness Live
South Carolina is a 1.5-point favorite per Oddsshark.
The Golden Eagles currently lead the all-time series between both schools, 12-4. They have won the last two meetings in 1984 and 2005.
How They Got Here
Marquette: The Golden Eagles notched an at-large bid. They might have been knocked out of the Big East Tournament in their first game, but their wins over Villanova, Creighton (twice), Xavier (twice), and a series split against Seton Hall—all NCAA tournament teams—were hard to ignore. They compiled a 7-4 record against RPI top 50 teams this season.
South Carolina: Like Marquette, the Gamecocks also secured at an-large bid. The defensive-savvy team went cold coming down the stretch of the regular season, but they still finished 12-6 in SEC play and got a solid win over Florida in the early part of conference schedule. The Gamecocks were featured in the top 25 rankings for a bit, earlier in the season.
What to Watch For
Offense vs. Defense
What’s most intriguing about these two teams is that they are polar opposites. It will be a battle between Marquette’s uptempo, blazing offense and South Carolina’s stingy, tough defense.
Adding to that, according to KenPom, Marquette is about average on defense, while South Carolina is also lacking on offense.
Per KenPom, the Golden Eagles boast a top 10 ranking in terms of offensive efficiency and are amongst the best in a number of different offensive categories, predominantly their Division I-leading 3-point shooting (43.0 percent). They have five different players averaging in double figures, with freshman Markus Howard (13.2 points per game) leading the way. Marquette is dangerous in transition and will look to push the ball up and down the court as fast as it can.
As for the Gamecocks, their suffocating defense falls among the top five in defensive efficiency. They disorient their opponents often and can force a lot of turnovers, doing so on 24.5 percent of possessions. South Carolina mainly operates in man-to-man defense and is very effective, restricting its foes to shooting under 30 percent from deep, which just so happens to be where Marquette deals most of the damage.
When these two contrasting styles collide, it will be an interesting to see how it unfolds, as they are about even on paper.
It’s been a while since both teams were last in the NCAA Tournament. For both head coaches, this will be their first time taking their respective teams to the Big Dance.
Frank Martin’s Gamecocks haven’t sniffed the NCAA Tournament since 2004, long before Martin was even the head coach at South Carolina. The last time they danced, they were coincidentally in the 7/10-seed matchup, where they lost to Memphis. In fact, since the tournament field expanded to 64 teams, the Gamecocks have never moved on from the first round. They have appeared in the NCAA Tournament four times since 1989 and lost in the opener each time.
As for Steve Wojciechowski’s Golden Eagles, he’s taking them back to the NCAA Tournament in just his third year as the head coach. Marquette went dancing for eight straight seasons from 2006-13, until that streak ended in Buzz Williams’ final season as the team’s head coach before Wojo’s arrival. The last time they were in the NCAA Tournament, they made it to the Elite Eight.
Sindarius Thornwell and Friends
While South Carolina doesn’t excel on offense statistically, one player that strays away from that pattern is Sindarius Thornwell. The 6-foot-5 senior guard is putting up career numbers in almost every single category. He is second in the SEC in scoring, just behind Kentucky’s Malik Monk. Thornwell is averaging 21.0 points per game this season, after averaging just 13.4 last season. He can score from almost anywhere, although he prefers to take it inside. He’s shooting at a much more efficient rate than he ever has before, knocking down 43.9 percent of his shots. He had never eclipsed 40 percent until this year. He’s a great rebounding guard, averaging a team-high 7.2 boards per game. Thornwell is also the heart and soul of this team on defense.
Also keep an eye out for P.J. Dozier, a volume scorer who excels more on defense than he does offensively. Dozier has taken more shots than Thornwell, yet converts at a much lower rate and is averaging 13.6 points per game this season. Duane Notice is a streaky perimeter threat that can either contribute in a big way or easily disappear in the stat sheet. Sophomore forward Chris Silva is the man in the middle, but is more of a defensive anchor in the paint. He does a solid job, but he might be his own worst enemy. He often gets into foul trouble, and sometimes, rather quickly.