South Carolina is a surprise member of this year’s Sweet 16 class after taking down both Marquette (93-73) and Duke (88-81) in fan-friendly Greenville, South Carolina. The Gamecocks are 37-18-1 ATS in their last 56 non-conference affairs, 7-2-1 ATS in their last ten neutral site games and 4-1-1 ATS in their last six games as underdogs of 6.5-points or less.
The season-long issue for South Carolina has been a pedestrian offense that is averaging just 73.1 points per game on 41.9% shooting from the field and 33.8% from beyond the arc. The Gamecocks are averaging 70.3 points per game on the road and are converting only 28.6% of their three-point attempts over the last five games.
In short, if Sindarius Thornwell is not producing at the offensive end of the floor, the Gamecocks’ chances of winning are slim to none. South Carolina’s success is predicated upon one of the most efficient defenses in the nation.
Specifically, South Carolina’s stop unit is 8.7 points per game better than average this season (65.2 points per game to teams that would combine to average 73.9 points per game) and is limiting foes to 40.0% shooting from the field and 30.0% from beyond the arc.
The Gamecocks are ranked 18th in the nation in field goal percentage defense and 9th in three-point field goal percentage defense. As one scout recently said, South Carolina “contests every pass, chases every rebound and denies every cut.”
Those characteristics are instilled by head coach Frank Martin, who wouldn’t accept anything less from his players. The issue facing Martin’s squad is their inherent lack of bog-game experience. Prior to this season, none of the players had played in the NCAA Tournament, let alone a pressure-packed Sweet 16 game.
South Carolina was just 2-5 SU and 2-4-1 ATS versus fellow NCAA Tournament teams this season, and NCAA Tournament underdogs off an upset win wherein they allowed 80+ points are 2-14 ATS.
The monumental upset of Duke is actually bad news for South Carolina fans in that the four most recent teams to have sent Duke home in the NCAA Tournament are 0-4 ATS. Meanwhile, Baylor is 13-3 SU and 10-6 ATS versus .700 or greater opposition this season, including 6-0 SU and 5-1 ATS versus non-conference opponents.
The Bears are 9-1 SU in their last ten games versus SEC opposition and represent a 77.8% ATS winning proposition against non-conference foes this season. I also like the fact that Baylor is making 75.8% of its free throws in postseason play (and 72.5% in 2016-17), whereas the Gamecocks are shooting 68.3% from the charity stripe on the road (and 69.8% overall in 2016-17).
The line in this Sweet 16 Round game is a little short as my math model favors Baylor by 4.03 points, and I’ll gladly take the small favorite who is averaging 76.6 points on 49.3% shooting from the field and 40.5% from three-point territory over its last five games.
Take the Baylor Bears minus the small number in Friday’s Sweet 16 contest at Madison Square Garden.
Oskeim Sports’ Sweet 16 Free Sports Pick: Baylor (-3) (-110)