GLENDALE, Ariz. — Why not? Why can’t the Gamecocks continue one of the sport’s greatest NCAA tournament runs — and finish it off with the program’s first national championship? They’ve come this far with their do-everything senior guard Sindarius Thornwell — and by “do-everything,” it’s actually everything; he leads the team in points, rebounds, assists and steals — and a suffocating defense. Plus a passionate coach who calls himself a dreamer, with a dream that may not be finished just yet. They might as well win another two games and finish this thing off, right?
It’ll take somewhat of a heroic effort to do so. South Carolina’s path to simply reaching the national championship game involves beating arguably the best team left standing: Gonzaga. The ‘Zags have the nation’s most efficient defense, per KenPom (South Carolina’s is No. 2), and have the type of balance and depth offensively that coaches salivate over. Nigel Williams-Goss is a stud, yet another player who has undergone the recent redshirt-to-All-American evolution Gonzaga has been known for as of late. Przemek Karnowski and Zach Collins are more than a handful inside. If the Gamecocks get through Gonzaga, though, there’s no reason to think they can’t beat the winner of North Carolina-Oregon.
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The more compelling matchup for a title game, in this scenario, would be an all-Carolina affair. Not only would this match up one of the most winningest programs in all of college basketball with a program with very little basketball tradition until this month, but there’s immeasurable and lasting bragging rights at stake in a border war to determine a national champion. How fun would that be?
Roy Williams vs. Frank Martin — a great coaching matchup rivaled only by their suit games. Thornwell, P.J. Dozier and co. vs. Justin Jackson, Joel Berry, Theo Pinson and Kennedy Meeks — it’d be fantastic. And what a story it would be if a core group of players who decided to stay home and play for South Carolina, and believe Martin’s dream of what they could build, were able to finish this fairytale with a national title. It’s not too unbelievable to imagine any longer.