With pre-tournament odds at 200-to-1, the South Carolina Gamecocks somehow snuck away from their football-frenzy family and made it to University of Phoenix Stadium, albeit with an ultra-tough escort in head coach Frank Martin.
Even with just one more win against Gonzaga on Saturday, coach Martin isn’t likely to let his sudden stars stay out past midnight.
The Gamecocks were the epitome of hard work on a basketball court in consecutive wins over Duke, Baylor and Florida. They have had some remarkable results over the last two weeks, including scoring 65 points in the second half against the Blue Devils.
Talk about a second-half team, USC has outscored their tourney opponents by 52 points after halftime.
Despite the Bulldogs finally breaking through their own glass slipper, er, ceiling, South Carolina and Martin are the top story at the Final Four.
That is what makes them such an intriguing bet getting 6.5 from GU in the opener on Saturday (3:05 p.m., CBS). The total opened 138.
Sindarious Thornwell showed the nation why many consider him one of the elite players in college basketball. It’s easy to draw conclusions between the team’s work ethic and the approach of the hard-working, foul-mouthed coach.
Martin is the kind of coach you would never want to play for… until you actually play for him.
Now the players and the coach enjoy the reward they’ve given each other with the trip to Glendale.
However, facing across the ballroom are the Bulldogs, who’ve usually put away their dancing shoes by now. But the impressive mix of transfers, recruits and a 7-footer from Poland, made the ‘Zags the championship favorite at 7-to-5, slightly ahead of North Carolina (8-5) following the games on Sunday night. The betting did appear headed for a turn, with some books moving the Heels to the title favorite, even as low as 6-to-5.
Nigel Williams-Goss, a transfer from Washington out of Findlay Prep in Las Vegas, is also one of the nation’s top players, while center Przemek Karnowski is a professional presence inside.
In many cases, Gonzaga may have been considered the outside fan favorite with its failure to reach this point despite many accomplished teams in the past, but early indicators were that the Gamecocks may end up the public choice with their story sure to be the most-talked about in the run-up to the weekend.
The 35-1 Bulldogs were one of the nation’s top spread teams this season with a 23-9-1 mark, while the total could hold steady in a Joes vs. Pros scenario with sharps likely to come in on the UNDER. Gonzaga, 71-63
Oregon (+5, 150) vs. North Carolina (Sat.,5:45, CBS): When your nickname is Mr. March, you’re doing something pretty special.
That’s the title bestowed on Oregon star Tyler Dorsey, but even with a key loss in the middle, the Ducks’ Jordan Bell has emerged as a force inside and junior guard Dillon Brooks has steadied them in the process.
Oregon has opened up big leads in three of their tourney games and has turned up the defense in the second half. The win over Kansas wasn’t as shocking as the manner it was achieved. The Ducks, however, have struggled from the line over the four games. They’ll have to have a steadier hand against the Tar Heels.
North Carolina’s win over Kentucky was every bit as good as a championship game. Reserve forward Luke Maye was a hero with his last-second jumper against an equally worthy Wildcats on Sunday night.
The Heels were a 6-to-1 choice before the tournament thanks to experienced stars Justin Jackson, Joel Berry and Kennedy Meeks.
Early money appeared to favor UNC, while the total was bet up pretty heavily immediately from an opener as low as 148.5. Oregon had a 22-15 spread mark this season, while the Tar Heels played to the UNDER in 23 of 38 contests. Oregon, 74-72
Should our predicted Northwest showdown occur on Monday, take the Oregon Ducks to win the National Championship.