NCAA tournament: Is there a team that can keep South Carolina from a repeat championship?

They call themselves “freshmen,” though little is new to South Carolina retirees. They have been ranked number one in the country for two-thirds of their university careers. They have been to every Final Four available to them. They won the national championship. They didn’t lose in the regular season.

Alia Boston, Zia Cook, Letitia Amiher, Brea Beal and Olivia Thompson have only lost eight games in their four-year Gamecock careers and they have no plans to lose another. Quintet became the first class of recruitment #1 in the history of the program and will remain the most decorated. The second trophy will further solidify their leadership status and place them in the Connecticut Company, Tennessee and USC as the only programs to repeat.

When their defense is the best, it leads to the most success. They are fourth in defensive scoring (51.1 ppg) and second in defensive scoring (73.0) for the second straight season. It’s already frustrating, according to head coach Don Staley during their NCAA championship last March.

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What could make South Carolina even nastier? The attack is so powerful that it was never seen in Columbia during Staley’s tenure. The bench is larger than the starting five in other programs and scores nearly as many points as its starters. Focus to be even better.

“I think South Carolina is on a completely different level for us,” Cook said Wednesday in an interview with the Associated Press All-American. said this week. And it will show.

Few teams can match the Gamecocks in a tournament they must lose. As the No. 1 seed overall, they have the easiest draw at Greenville 1. However, nothing is guaranteed in March and there are early retirement contenders for rookies if they don’t decide to return for their fifth year allowed because of the COVID pandemic. -19.

Sportzshala Sports analyzed the teams most likely to move forward in their early games and beat South Carolina’s typical defense and improved offense.

Rising Crime in South Carolina

South Carolina handily won its first two games last postseason, but it wasn’t without worries about its title chances given a stagnant offense. Added to Kentucky’s loss in the SEC Championship, the Gamecocks had three of the worst six games in field goal percentage. In a win against Miami in the second round, they scored 29.5% against a defense that applied paint and lured guards into shots they didn’t throw.

Staley didn’t care, even though her team’s scoring average (70.9 ppg) and offensive rating (103.5) were the worst since the 2012-13 season.

“As long as we’re defensive, as long as we’re rebounding, those two areas really give us a good shot at winning basketball games,” she said. “At this point, crime is the icing on the cake.”

Offense is now as much a part of the ice cream as their stingy defense.

Their offensive rating of 115.1 leads the country for the first time in program history and is the best in 14 years available on Her Hoop Stats, eclipsing 112 in 2019-2020. Same with the 16.8 assist average, and the 19-20 and 14-15 seasons were the only seasons to have more than 16 assists. They hit 47% of their shots, returning to the level of late 2010s teams. And their average of 81.4 points per game ranks seventh in Division I, trailing only the 82 points posted by the 19-20 team. No other Gamecock roster has scored more than 76 points in a game.

South Carolina guard Zia Cook is the main reason the Gamecocks look poised to win a second consecutive NCAA title.  (Eakin Howard/Getty Images)
South Carolina guard Zia Cook is the main reason the Gamecocks look poised to win a second consecutive NCAA title. (Eakin Howard/Getty Images)

This 19-20 lineup, when freshmen were actually freshmen, was the one who was one step ahead to win South Carolina, which would then become the second national championship before the tournament was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Instead, they brought home the No. 2 trophy last season, redeeming their 2021 Final Four loss to eventual champion Stanford. The offense gained a lot of popularity after struggling with North Carolina in the Sweet 16, hitting 33.3% and equalizing in the third worst game of the season, but hitting seven triples and scoring the second most of the season.

It was 50.9% against Creighton, 47.4% against Louisville, and 36.7% against UCLA against whom South Carolina quickly took the lead to claim the title. Destanny Henderson, now with the WNBA Indiana Fever, scored a season-high 26 points and lifted the trophy, doubling her average of 11.5 points per game.

Table buoys for the production of Gamecocks

The current offensive success has not come from the shooting hands of one player. It’s a team effort that’s been split almost evenly between the starting XI and the bench, creating South Carolina’s biggest asset.

Returning starter Cook, a 5-foot-9 senior quarterback, is the most influential catalyst in South Carolina’s offensive starts. She averages 15.3 points per game, is in the 95th percentile of DI players and is 0.6 points behind her career high. That’s 50% more than last season’s average, and she hits a career-best 40.8% overall (compared to 34.2% in the bottom quarter of the DI) and gains 3 seconds better than last season (from 36.1% to 28.7%). %).

This helped make up for the loss of Henderson and the paint’s closer focus on Boston, the reigning National Player of the Year and the most outstanding player in the Final Four. Five standard players average 5 points less per game than last season (44.6 compared to 49.9).

After the starters got them going, bench performance was the biggest improvement in South Carolina. Reservists are averaging 42.7 points per game, up 52% ​​from 28 points per game last season.

The Gamecocks are so deep that they take 6-7 juniors and former ACC Freshman of the Year Camille Cardoso off the bench. The former Syracuse star is averaging 10 points per game — third on the list and twice as many in a year — in 18 minutes per game, leading the Player Efficiency Rating (PER).

They can almost seamlessly split point guard time between Kirra Fletcher, a 5-9 fifth-year Georgia Tech junior, and Raven Johnson, a 5-8 redshirt freshman who finished second in her class. Johnson leads the team in assists at 3.4 per game and steals per game at 1.1.

Cook, Boston and Beal, all back in the starting lineup, are the only ones to average more than 25 minutes per game. No one else scores more than 20 points. Cook (15.3 ppg), Boston (13.3 ppg) and Cardoso (10 ppg) are the only players with double-digit averages, with 12 of the 15 players on the roster averaging at least 4 points per game. Two of the three remaining are freshmen.

Way to Greenville

South Carolina, which leads the Greenville 1 regional tournament, kicks off its tournament schedule at home in Columbia against Norfolk State on Friday (2:00 pm ET on ESPN). Unlike last year, he will not face the winner of the Top Four play-off.

“It’s very convenient that you don’t have to prepare for two teams,” Staley said Sunday at the qualifying tournament. through the state. “We know who we’re playing with and we can get started.”

Considering this and his higher caliber attack, the win advantage could be record-breaking. The Spartans (26-6, 11-3 MEAC) defeated Howard to win their first tournament title in 21 years and earn an auto-bet. They are averaging 60.3 points per game (bottom third in the DI rankings), allowing the third man to score 51 points per game and trailing the nation’s best 71.8 points per 100 possessions, which is great for statistics.

But their only Power Six contests were losses to Penn State, 67–61, and Alabama, 92–30. South Carolina defeated Tide 65–52 in an SEC game.

The second round will see either No. 8 South Florida (26-6), an at-large AAC team, or No. 9 Marquette (21-10), an at-large bid from the Big East. .

South Florida and South Carolina are the nation’s top boards, both in the top four in total rebounding. The Bulls’ interception average and interception ratio (both ranked 344th) stand out in the red. They are 1-3 against the top 25 NET teams.

The South Carolina-Marquette match will be played primarily inside the arc with…


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