Some superb players will gather outside Phoenix for the Final Four, and one of them is South Carolina’s Sindarius Thornwell. Tell me what he can’t do? At 6-5 and a lean 211 pounds, he runs and passes and draws fouls and man, does he play defense. He’s 22, and he’s from Lancaster, S.C., about an hour south of Charlotte.
Nobody has had a better tournament than Thornwell, who has averaged more than 25 points the last four games. His profile has risen as quickly as the profile of South Carolina coach Frank Martin.
How many of us knew Martin before the tournament? He was the intense guy out of Kansas State who, during a game, could stare down a pit bull. He was known primarily for barking and yelling and turning previously unknown shades of red when his players lost their man or turned the ball over.
The other three Final Four schools have all achieved at least some basketball success. The Gamecocks hadn’t. Their ride to the Final Four is as unlikely as driving to a football game at South Carolina’s Williams-Brice Stadium without getting caught in traffic.
The Gamecocks’ next opponent is Gonzaga, which plays defense as well as anybody in the tournament. But, as a very good Duke team will attest, the relentless and grinding defense the Gamecocks play has, throughout the tournament, worn opponents down.
The unexpected is one of the qualities that enhance the tournament, and I’d like everybody who picked South Carolina to make the Final Four to raise their hands. Let’s try that again. I’d like everybody who picked the Gamecocks to make the Final Four, and is older than 8, to raise their hands. Thank you.
I’ve heard complaints that South Carolina should have been seeded higher than seventh. But you’ll recall that, going into the tournament, the Gamecocks had lost five of their final seven games, including an 11-point loss to Alabama in the first round of the SEC Tournament.
The Alabama loss feels so old it might as well be covered in dust. The Final Four is intriguing. You get the newcomers and, in North Carolina, the established power the newcomers will measure themselves against.
The Gamecocks have been exceptional, and I’m thrilled that they’re part of it.