It’s March Madness, the greatest time of the year. Looking for some help with your bracket? Don’t know which teams to believe in, in this crazy college hoops season? We’ve got your back. We’re breaking down every first-round game in the field of 68, plus looking ahead at which teams will make the run to the Final Four.
7. South Carolina (22-10, 12-6/SEC)– Frank Martin may act like a lunatic on the sidelines, but you’ve got to give him this–the man can coach.
The fiery former Kansas State boss has South Carolina in the tournament for the first time since 2004, and it only took him four years to turn this nondescript, apathetic program into a winner.
The Gamecocks hung around the Top 25 for the majority of the season before dropping out after losing five of seven down the stretch.
They’re led by do-everything 6-5 senior Sindarius Thornwell, who averages 21.2 points and 7.3 rebounds per game. 6-6 sophomore guard P.J. Dozier chips in 13.6 ppg.
South Carolina hasn’t won a game in the NCAA Tournament since 1973. But thanks to its stingy defense (29th in the country in points allowed at 64.5), and flat-out crazy head coach, that could very well change this week.
10. Marquette (19-12, 10-8/Big East)– The new Big East certainly has respect from the selection committee, as 7 of the league’s 10 teams are dancing.
Marquette snuck in largely thanks to a win over No. 1 Villanova, and sweeps of Creighton and Xavier. Former Duke star Steve Wojciechowski has done a nice job of rebuilding this program, and he’s got a deep, balanced team that can play with anybody in the country when it’s shooting the rock well.
The Golden Eagles have five players who average in double figures in scoring, led by 5-11 freshman guard Markus Howard (13.2 ppg). They put up 82.5 points per game, which ranks 17th rationally, and share the sugar (apologies to Steve Lavin), ranking 20th in the country at 16.5 assists per game.
PREDICTION: South Carolina digs deep on defense, and holds Marquette to an uncharacteristically poor shooting day. Frank Martin’s experience in big games (he led K-State to the Elite Eight in 2010) comes through, and the Gamecocks earn their first NCAA win since the ’70s. The celebration won’t last too long, though, as they’ll be steamrolled by Duke in Round 2.