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NCAA Final Four – Gonzaga vs South Carolina Picks

South Carolina Gamecocks(26-10) @ Gonzaga Bulldogs(36-1)

  • Where: University of Phoenix Stadium (Neutral Site). Phoenix, Arizona
  • When: April 1, 2017 6:09 pm EST
  • Spread: South Carolina (+6.5) vs Gonzaga (-6.5)
  • Moneyline: South Carolina (+250) vs Gonzaga (-300)
  • Over / Under: Over 138 (-110) vs Under 138 (-110)

Fans and pundits imagined a hundred different ways the #1-seeded Gonzaga Bulldogs’ NCAA tourney bid would shake out. What few of them likely envisioned was the Zags blowing out a molten-hot Elite Eight opponent en route to the school’s first-ever Final Four date.

And almost no one dreamed that Gonzaga’s opponent in Phoenix would be South Carolina.

The Gamecocks traditionally have had little to brag about in basketball, on the men’s or the women’s side. Yet both basketball teams from Columbia have landed in the national semifinals in 2017.

In such weird circumstances, bettors can get bamboozled hunting for obscure stats, conference vs conference trend-lines and the like. To make the best wager, clear your mind of externals and focus on the two teams taking the floor Saturday. The game will be clash of styles – the physical, explosive underdogs from SC (+250) against the modern, versatile “FIBA-Lite” culture of the minus-money line Zags.

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Gonzaga – Only good teams ever look lucky

Bet on the Final Four NCAAB 2017Those who felt that the Bulldogs had gotten off easy by being pitted against an #11 seed in the Elite Eight were not paying close attention. There were few hotter teams in the Big Dance than Xavier, who had just knocked the Arizona Wildcats out of the bracket. In fact, to some observers, the Musketeers seemed like just the type of team that could beat Gonzaga, due to the former’s stylistic similarity with BYU – the lone squad to vanquish the Zags in 2016-17.

Instead, the controversial #1 seed won by 24 points and punched its Phoenix ticket, with a 23-point performance from Nigel Williams-Goss and a powerful, relentless 33 minutes from 6’9″ junior forward Johnathan Williams. Buoyed inside by seven-footers Karnowski and Collins, the unit is also playing the best statistical defense of any team in program history.

But as scary as it sounds, Gonzaga could be playing better. In the tournament, their shooting has dropped from 51.8% to 43.2, and three-point attempts have been going in at a slightly diminished rate as well. That can be attributed to the tough defense of teams in the NCAA bracket, but the Zags’ suddenly mediocre foul shooting – 58.6% over four games – can’t.

South Carolina is not a fluke

It is interesting how the ACC and SEC are reversing roles. The SEC is held as a gold standard on the gridiron, but ACC programs such as Clemson, FSU and Louisville have taken both the limelight and FBS titles in recent years. Almost the reverse is true in basketball – the Southeastern Conference has been decimated by untimely injuries and a lack of recruiting buzz outside of Kentucky, while the Atlantic Coast has remained a hardwood mecca. Yet three SEC teams made the Elite Eight in 2017. Duke fell in the second round to the Gamecocks, who beat conference-rival Florida 77-70 in an emotional Elite Eight contest.

SC’s chances will revolve around Sindarius Thornwell, the team’s wonderful senior shooting guard who paced all scorers with 26 points in the quarterfinal win. South Carolina is also a great defensive unit, ranked just behind the Zags in overall stopping efficiency.

The Gamecocks will play a disciplined half-court game and hope Thornwell or 6’9″ forward Chris Silva can produce another scoring barrage. But there are areas of concern for the #7 seed. First, Gonzaga feasts on turnovers and quick counter-attacks, and Thornwell turned the ball over four times against Florida (with the SC starting-five grabbing only three steals of its own). Looseness with the basketball could spoil an ATS bet on the underdogs, as a one or two-basket deficit might turn into more in the closing moments.

Second, South Carolina has simply been shooting over their heads. In a stadium venue against the best defenders in the country, that upward trend could come crashing down.

For a live bet, watch the charity stripe

Gonzaga plays an Olympic Games-influenced style of hoops in which versatility, speed and smarts are considered as important as height, weight or shooting touch. The WCC champs have displayed all those qualities and more. But interestingly the Zags are failing at one of the most important facets of FIBA basketball, which is getting to the free-throw line and making the foul shots.

In contrast, their opponents from Columbia have been getting to the line more, and making more attempts, than at any point during their season. The Gamecocks are averaging seven more free-throw attempts than their foes in the tourney, and Silva has gone a terrific 24-for-29 from the stripe. Congrats may be in order, but there’s no mistaking the effect of such short-term shooting streaks on odds-makers.

Not only do the %’s have to “even out” at some point, the fact is that Gonzaga is the better shooting team – and foul-shooting team – in this match-up. If you observe South Carolina fouling its way toward a free-throw bonanza for the Zags, or giving the Bulldogs good looks from the field, an unfavorable first-half scoreboard (don’t worry, it will change) could turn into an excellent value in-play on the favorites.

The Zags won’t be packing their bags

The Final Four – and its feel in large stadiums – tends to reset all knobs back to zero. Though Gonzaga has been ostracized as a small-conference pretender and the squad has struggled from the field at times, nothing has stopped the Bulldogs. Neither will South Carolina.

But it won’t be an easy win. The determined defense and power forwards of SC are likely to grab the momentum for minutes at a time, making an ATS bet a fool’s errand. Your best wager is a straight money line play on Gonzaga, but if you’re feeling adventurous, wait for the inevitable first-half SC run and then hit the casino with an in-play at diminished odds. Your bookie will lose out as the Zags finally relax and sink shots in the second frame.

Kurt BoyerThis article was written by Kurt Boyer

A freelance sportswriter from Missouri, Kurt has covered court, gridiron, rink and ring for 10+ years. He muses about High School football on social media as The Gridiron Geek.


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