Marquette-South Carolina Preview (Mar 17, 2017)

South Carolina is back in the NCAA Tournament after an absence of more than a dozen years.

The Gamecocks won’t even have to leave the state to play at the start of this week’s tournament.

Assigned to the East Region, seventh-seeded South Carolina meets 10th-seeded Marquette in Friday night’s first round at Bon Secours Wellness Arena in Greenville, S.C.

South Carolina (22-10) will play in its first NCAA Tournament since 2004. This is the ninth time overall for the Gamecocks in the tournament.

“Happy for guys who signed up to help us build this,” Gamecocks coach Frank Martin said. “It has been a grinding five years. It’s fun to be a part of it again. There’s nothing like the NCAA Tournament. … This whole week should be a week of celebration for our players and our fans.”

Martin has coached in 10 NCAA Tournament games, all with Kansas State. His teams have won at least one game in each year it has been part of the tournament.

“The one thing I’ve told our players, don’t just be happy to be in it,” Martin said. “Be focused and prepared to make a run now that that we’re in this exclusive group. You’ve earned your way into this thing.”

Marquette (19-12) is in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2013. This is the first appearance under third-year coach Steve Wojciechowski.

“It makes it all worth it,” Wojciechowski said. “Really excited to be part of March Madness. This is another step in the right direction.”

Martin said he’s impressed with what Wojciechowski has done with a Marquette program that has a special tradition.

“Marquette is one of those programs, one of those basketball-rich powerful schools,” Martin said. “It’s great for South Carolina to play one of those basketball schools that has a lot of credibility.”

Marquette’s only other time as a No. 10 seed came in 1997, when it lost in the first round to Providence in Charlotte, N.C.

This season, the Golden Eagles won four of their final five regular-season games before losing to Seton Hall in the Big East Tournament quarterfinals. They own a 74-72 victory in January against Villanova, which is the NCAA Tournament’s overall No. 1 seed.

The Golden Eagles have made a school-record 312 3-point baskets this season. Scoring won’t come easy against the Gamecocks.

“They’re one of the best defensive teams in the country,” Wojciechowski said. “They really get out in pressure and try to turn you over. They make passes hard.”

South Carolina went 3-6 across its last nine99999 games.

“Contrary to popular belief, we didn’t limp to the finish line,” Martin said. “We didn’t lose to bad teams.”

Martin said he was pleased with the No. 7 seed because the NCAA committee respected his team’s work throughout the season. Guard Sindarius Thornwell averages 21 points per game.

Martin said the potential impact of the Gamecocks’ fan turnout could be diminished because of the huge followings for Duke and North Carolina, two schools also assigned to the site.

Still, he’s happy to be at that venue.

“We’ve played in that building,” Martin said. “We’ve won in that building.”

Wojciechowski said he hopes his ties to Duke (player and assistant coach) keeps some of the Blue Devils fans around to pull for his team. Duke meets Troy in the evening’s first game.

The South Carolina-Marquette winner takes on the Duke-Troy winner on Sunday.