RTC will be providing coverage of the NCAA Tournament from start to finish. Justin Kundrat (@justinkundrat) is in New York City this weekend.
Three Key Takeaways.
- Sometimes, defense can be fun. Following the elimination of both Villanova and Duke, the East Region became the “Region of Defense.” Per KenPom, all four Sweet Sixteen teams ranked among the top 13 nationally in defensive efficiency. Stylistically, the game wasn’t pretty by any stretch of the imagination, but watching even a handful of possessions showed just how far great defense can take a team. Among the remaining group of teams, South Carolina’s offense is the least efficient by far and yet the Gamecocks controlled every aspect of the game — forcing Baylor’s guards to over-dribble, make poor passes and take contested jumpers. Midway through the first half, the Gamecocks held Baylor scoreless for nearly seven minutes in the midst of an 18-0 run.
- Sindarius Thornwell is the most underappreciated player of the NCAA Tournament. Sure, he’s been picking up steam as the Gamecocks continue their run, but he’s still a ways off from becoming a bona fide media darling. The 6’5″ senior is responsible for a +0.18 PPP differential when he’s on the floor and could very well be the best two-way player in the country. Thornwell fills up the stat sheet in every way imaginable: he leads his team in scoring, rebounding and steals while also contributing nearly a block per game. Baylor’s backcourt struggled mightily with his on-ball pressure and never looked comfortable initiating the offense in its half-court sets.
- Baylor fell victim to its weak spot: turnovers. Even when things appeared to be turning around for the Bears on the tail of a second half run, Baylor simply couldn’t overcome its season-long plague of poor ball handling. Scott Drew’s group committed 16 turnovers, a string of which interrupted its second half momentum. An offense undermined by a 20.5 percent turnover rate (305th nationally) is a recipe for disaster against the pressure-centric defense of South Carolina.
Star of the Game. Sindarius Thornwell, South Carolina. Thornwell continued his torrid shooting tonight with a 24-point, six-rebound performance against one of the best defensive teams in the country. Outside of Thornwell, the Gamecocks lack consistent breakdown scorers, so his contributions on that end of the floor play a vital role in extending and maintaining leads.