Thornwell averaged 26.5 points and 8.5 rebounds in the Gamecocks’ first two games of the NCAA Tournament, both victories. This comes after averaging 21.2 points and 7.3 rebounds during the regular season, for which Thornwell was chosen the conference’s best player.
And while Thornwell might not have had the national recognition of Kentucky’s Malik Monk and De’Aaron Fox before the NCAA Tournament, the Gamecocks’ upset win over Duke cemented his status, according to Vitale.
“Sindarius Thornwell has been unbelievable averaging 26.5 points per game in the first two rounds and showing why he was player of the year in the SEC,” Vitale told SEC Country. “Thornwell really proved he is legit as the MVP of the conference.”
To Vitale, what made South Carolina’s run so surprising isn’t Thornwell. It’s the style of play the Gamecocks used to beat Duke and Marquette. The Gamecocks averaged 90.5 points in the first two tournament games, second only to Kansas in points per game among the teams remaining in the tournament.
Against Duke, South Carolina scored 65 points in the second half. Not only is that the most points scored against the Blue Devils in a half in the Mike Krzyzewski era, but it’s 12 points more than the Gamecocks scored in their SEC Tournament loss to Alabama.
“Frank Martin’s done a terrific job there,” Vitale said. “Their style of play seems so uniquely different now than where it was in the middle of the season when they were really physical and played in the 60s and now they’re in the 90s. That’s unbelievable when you think about what they’re doing. A lot of that I credit to Thornwell.”
Vitale, who is helping fans make predictions using the Allstate Bracket Predictor, a predictive tool that analyzes a number of statistics and probability metrics, sees Friday’s game against Baylor in the Sweet 16 as not only a huge opportunity for the Gamecocks but the SEC as a whole. Kentucky and Florida also are in the Sweet 16, but those schools have much more established basketball backgrounds.
“When you’re South Carolina and you’re the new kid on the block in terms of the Sweet 16, it’s a big plus for them and the conference,” Vitale said.
The Gamecocks take on Baylor in Madison Square Garden on Friday. The game will be broadcast on TBS and tip is scheduled to begin at 7:29 p.m. ET. A win could set up a rematch against Florida, should the Gators beat Wisconsin.