by Chris Kennedy
This year’s edition of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, fondly dubbed “March Madness” by its adoring fans who come out of the woodwork each year, make brackets online, and cheer their team on to a championship. The tournament included some newer names like Michigan and Northwestern, some familiar faces like Wichita State and Oregon, as well as perennial blue-blooded tournament regulars like North Carolina and Kentucky.
There is one aspect of the tournament that captivates the heart of the basketball world every year, the underdog that makes a big run and upsets a great team. This team is referred to as the “Cinderella”. From VCU’s Final Four run in 2011, to Davidson’s Elite Eight run in 2008 led by Golden State Warriors star Stephen Curry, the Cinderella team busts brackets, breaks hearts, and shocks the sports world.
This year’s rendition of the Cinderella is just as compelling, and is much more familiar to those in the Palmetto State. This is a team that has only won four NCAA tournament games all time since the tournament started in 1939. The same team that did not even make the tournament last year and hasn’t been there since 2004. On top of that, this team got put into the same bracket as one of the best basketball programs ever in Duke, and the defending national champion, Villanova. This team is the South Carolina Gamecocks.
Led by Coach Frank Martin, the Gamecocks came in as the 7-seed in the East Region of the tournament. They played tournament-regular 10-seeded Marquette, who led the country in 3-point percentage this year. The Gamecocks dismantled Marquette 93-73 using great perimeter defense, an impressive 20-point first round victory to kick things off. Their next game was no cakewalk, as they took on the 2-seeded Duke Blue Devils, the ACC Tournament Champions. Duke, a team that relies heavily on the 3-pointer, played right into South Carolina’s hands due to the Gamecocks excellent perimeter defense. Sindarius Thornwell scored 24 in a colossal 88-81 upset over one of this year’s trendiest picks to win it all.
The upset win shocked the basketball world, and the Gamecocks booked a trip to their first Sweet Sixteen in program history. They met up with the 3-seeded Baylor Bears for a trip to the Elite Eight, and much to everyone’s surprise, pounded the Bears 70-50 en route to their first ever Elite Eight, where they met a familiar foe: the 4-seeded Florida Gators.
Florida was coming off of a miraculous overtime victory over 8-seeded Wisconsin on a buzzer-beating 3-pointer. The Gamecocks and Gators met twice in the regular season, splitting their meetings 1-1. The Gamecocks trailed at halftime, but tightened up the perimeter defense in the second half and won the East Regional Final 77-70 to cut down the nets and book a trip to Phoenix, Arizona for the Final Four.
The magical run has been a dream for Gamecock fans, captivating the heart of the Midlands. With the Gamecock women’s team making the Final Four as well, the USC basketball program has sprung itself into the select few elite basketball programs in the country. With two more wins, the Gamecocks can secure their first ever National Championship.
The Gamecocks look to keep the dream alive when they take on the 1-seeded Gonzaga Bulldogs, champions of the West Region, on Saturday, April 1 at 6:09 p.m. on CBS.