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Thursday’s SportsBIT Show: Gonzaga-USC, NIT Championship Game

No. 6 Georgia Tech vs. No. 4 TCU
The two best conferences in NCAA basketball this season were the ACC and Big 12. Those leagues face off in the NIT final in New York City on Thursday night as the No. 6 Yellow Jackets and No. 4 Horned Frogs battle for the right to be 69th best. Teddy & Pauly commented on Georgia Tech’s stellar defense ahead of the NIT semifinals, and that was on display in the Jackets’ 76-61 win over No. 8 CSU Bakersfield on Tuesday. Tech held CSUB to 21-for-60 from the field forced 15 turnovers and had eight blocks. A whopping 30.8 percent of all of CSUB’s possessions ended with a turnover or a blocked shot. Georgia Tech is sixth nationally in defensive efficiency.
TCU also was very strong defensively in its 68-53 semifinal win over No. 4 Central Florida. The Knights were just 19-for-57 from the floor with five assists – compared to 20 helpers by the Frogs on 26 made baskets. TCU looks to match a school record for wins in this game at 24; the mark was set in 1987 when TCU’s point guard was Jamie Dixon, the team’s current coach. Dixon knows Madison Square Garden well from his many years coaching at Pittsburgh and in the Big East. “I'm a New Yorker by my parents,” Dixon said. “I tried to get the message across to our players how important it is to play at Madison Square Garden. I think they (players) sensed how important it is to me.” These two schools have never played.

No. 7 South Carolina vs. No. 1 Gonzaga
It’s an unlikely national semifinal in Glendale, Ariz., on Saturday evening when seventh-seeded South Carolina, the East Region champion, takes on West No. 1 Gonzaga. It’s the first-ever Final Four for the Gamecocks, who hadn’t even been in a NCAA Tournament since 2004 or won a game in it since 1973. The Zags have been the model of mid-major success for the past two decades but had never reached the Final Four. This matchup is not likely to be stylistically pretty because Gonzaga ranks No. 1 nationally in defensive efficiency and the Gamecocks No. 2.  Gonzaga relies on half-court defense, while USC is among the nation’s leaders in turnover percentage with its pressure. 
One big difference here is that Gonzaga also is Top 15 in offensive efficiency and South Carolina struggles on that side of the ball. However, the best player in this tournament so far has perhaps been Cocks senior Sindarius Thornwell. The SEC Player of the Year is averaging 25.8 points in the Big Dance, the most of any player (minimum two games). South Carolina definitely loses the size battle as the Gonzaga frontcourt rotation has NBA-type size led by 7-foot-1, 300-pound sixth-year senior Przemek Karnowski from Poland. Karnowski holds the Division I record in wins by a mile with 163. USC has struggled offensively against size in 2016-17. It’s the first-ever meeting between Gonzaga and South Carolina. 

‘Dome Effect’ In Final Four
Only huge football stadiums host the Final Four these days — the 1996 Final Four at Continental Airlines Arena in New Jersey was the last one held in a basketball arena. Starting in 2009, the NCAA moved the court to midfield in those Final Four stadiums instead of one end zone. The new setup allowed for bigger crowds, but the worry was that the distant backgrounds would negatively affect shooting percentages; i.e. the “dome effect.” While scoring is a bit down since the move to midfield, 3-point shooting percentages have increased. The background certainly didn’t bother Villanova’s Kris Jenkins last year at NRG Stadium in Houston when he hit the buzzer-beating 3-pointer to upset North Carolina. The University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz., is expecting crowds of 75,000 this weekend. It’s the first time the Final Four has been held there.