NEW YORK, NY – When Frank Martin was coaching Kansas State, he guided the Wildcats into the Elite 8 in 2010 as KSU survived a 101-96 double OT thriller against Xavier in the Sweet 16 at Salt Lake City.
The game finished up in the wee hours of the morning. Early the following day, Kansas State was informed their Elite Eight matchup with Butler would tip early in the afternoon because CBS wanted to televise a more ‘attractive’ game in the late afternoon slot.
Since Kansas State would be taking the court for the Elite Eight about 36 hours after the victory over Xavier was secured, Martin was fearful of tiring his team out, so he put them through a light workout the day before the game.
In other words, he changed Kansas State’s practice routine from the usual physical, hard-nosed sessions the Wildcat players had come to expect to a light workout with little contact.
Kansas State started slowly and eventually lost to Butler, 63-56, denying the Wildcats a trip to the Final Four. Ever since, Martin has second guessed how he handled his team between the Sweet 16 and Elite 8 and vowed if he ever reached the same point again, he would do things differently.
Now he’s back in the Elite 8 as the Gamecocks face Florida Sunday at 2:20 p.m. on CBS with a trip to the Final Four at stake between the SEC rivals.
“I'll never forgive myself (for what happened in 2010) because I had a group just like these guys that lay it on the line and give you everything they got,” Martin said Saturday during an Elite Eight preview press conference. “In that in-between practice, because of the time we got back and how soon we had to play, we went on the court and we did nothing but shoot balls and walk through things. That's not the way we practice.
“I told myself that if I'm ever in the same situation, I've got to practice our guys the way that we have trained for six months, not anyway differently. That's what happened then.”
The Gamecocks practiced Saturday afternoon at Madison Square Garden, site of Sunday’s Elite Eight battle.
GAMECOCKS IMPOSED THEIR WILL UPON BEARS: The Gamecocks physically beat up Baylor inside, limiting the Bears to 24 points in the paint, and forced 16 turnovers in Friday night’s 70-50 Sweet 16 victory, ESPN analysts said after the game.
“They imposed their will defensively upon the basketball game, plain and simple,” Seth Greenberg said. “The hardest playing, toughest team finds a way to win. They were the hardest playing, toughest team. They challenge you and draw a line in the sand every play. They did an incredible job of contesting shots.”
Baylor was 7-of-41 on contested shots, Greenberg said.
“The amazing number is they had 41 contested shots,” Greenberg said. “Everything South Carolina does starts on the defensive end, and that includes rebounding the ball. Baylor was averaging 45 points in the paint. They had 24 (Friday). The physicality of the South Carolina defense was the difference. They push you out away from the basket and they contest passes. They contest shots and they finished with a rebound.”
Jay Bilas described USC’s performance in the Sweet 16 as a “physical manhandling of a pretty darn good team.” USC held an opponent under 40 percent shooting for the 17th time this season.
“South Carolina just beat them up physically,” Bilas said. “They wouldn’t allow them to get into the lane anytime there was rebound. South Carolina was chest-to-chest, body-to-body on them. It was really impressive. They weren’t as good offensively as they were against Duke (71 FG percentage in second half), but defensively they were better than they have ever been in this tournament.”
Baylor was 14-of-43 on 2-point field goal attempts and shot just 30.4 percent overall (17-56). They came into the game averaging 26.6 field goals and 6.7 three-pointers per game. SEC Network analyst Dane Bradshaw said the Gamecocks excelled at a fundamental aspect of playing outstanding defense.
“Oftentimes, coaches will say, ‘Make the opponent take tough twos,” Bradshaw said. “If you want to know what tough twos are, watch South Carolina play defense. Baylor loves to pound it inside and get paint production. South Carolina doesn’t have one player that takes it away. They have a team that swarms to the ball and forces you to take tough twos. They shut Baylor down all night long.”
Leading scorer Johnathan Motley was the lone Baylor player in double figures with 18 points. But he needed 17 shots to get there. Baylor has just three 3-pointers and the bench scored a total of 11 points, far below their season average.
“Motley got his points, but South Carolina guarded everybody else around him on the perimeter and in the paint and took care of the bench,” SEC Network analyst Tony Delk said. “You have to give Frank Martin a lot of credit for being able to contain the bench and the inside players.”
SEC BREAKTHROUGH: The SEC created a buzz around college basketball circles when they put three teams into the Sweet 16. Now you can make that three teams in the Elite 8. For at least one year anyway, criticism of SEC basketball will cease.
Martin has been unafraid to callout critics of the SEC ever since he arrived at South Carolina in 2012. He coached five years in the Big 12 at Kansas State and was an assistant at Cincinnati. He knows good basketball when he sees it, and for years he has steadfastly insisted the SEC is a much better basketball league than local and national pundits give it credit for, describing criticism as “old and boring.”
Martin recognizes winning changes perceptions, which is exactly what the SEC has done by placing three teams into the Elite Eight. Suddenly, league skeptics are silent.
“There's only one way to change it, and it's by doing what these guys are doing,” Martin said, pointing to the Gamecock players sitting next to him on the podium. “We can sit and gripe and mope and complain and blame, they're not about that. And I'm not about that. I just let people know I don't appreciate that negativity. But the only way to quiet people is doing what these guys have done.”
-- Bradshaw on Sindarius Thornwell: “He is absolutely relentless. This is his first time playing in the NCAA Tournament. Watching him play, you would think he has been here four years in a row. He is absolutely playing his best on the biggest stage.”
-- Friday night’s Sweet 16 victory over Baylor marked the 29th time in 35 games this season that the Gamecocks have forced 15 or more turnovers. They are averaging 17.3 turnover forced per game. USC has scored double digit points off turnovers in all but one game this season. Friday night, they had 11 points off Baylor’s 16 turnovers.
-- The Gamecocks will set a new school record for most wins in a season (26) if they beat Florida Sunday afternoon and advance to the Final Four. USC has won 25 games three times: 1969-70, 2015-16 and 2016-17.
-- Delk’s ‘X’ factor in the Elite 8 matchup with Florida? Chris Silva. “He’s a long, lanky and athletic player and he’s scoring a lot more around the basket,” Delk said. “He gets to the foul line. He has become a very good foul shooter. He has to stay out of foul trouble because when he’s in the game, it gives the Gamecocks a high level of energy and a player who plays through contact. The way he has played in the tournament, you would never know he hasn’t played in a tournament game before this year.”
ELITE EIGHT MATCHUPS (March 25-26)
Sat., March 25
Gonzaga vs. Xavier, 6:09 p.m. (TBS) - West
Kansas vs. Oregon, 8:49 p.m. (TBS) – Midwest
Sun., March 26
South Carolina vs. Florida, 2:20 p.m. (CBS) - East
North Carolina vs. Kentucky, 5:05 p.m. (CBS) – South
— NCAA March Madness (@marchmadness) March 25, 2017
— Gamecock MBB (@GamecockMBB) March 25, 2017
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