A look at how the teams match up in the NCAA tournament’s East Regional semifinals in New York:
No. 3 Baylor (27-7) vs. No. 7 South Carolina (24-10)
Time: 4:29 p.m. TV: TBS
Bottom line: Baylor is making its fourth regional semifinal appearance since 2009. South Carolina won an NCAA tournament game for the first time since 1973.
No mistake: Last year, the Gamecocks were mistakenly told on Selection Sunday that they were in the field. “Privately, in my own home with my wife, when I spoke to my mom, when I spoke to guys that raised me, I let them know, ‘This ain’t right, these kids deserve to be there,’” South Carolina Coach Frank Martin said Thursday. “But being around guys like [Sindarius] Thornwell allowed me to understand, I’ve got a responsibility here to get them in for the next opportunity. It’s here and it’s been an unbelievable ride. I’m happy they’re experiencing it right now.”
It’s all in the timing: The Gamecocks came into the NCAA tournament having lost two consecutive games and five of seven. Now they’re on a roll that includes wins over Marquette and Duke. “It means a lot,” said Thornwell, the Southeastern Conference player of the year. “For us, for our first time and our last time playing at the university means a lot, because when we came in our ultimate goal was to make it to the tournament. We didn’t get that chance our first three years and for us to get this opportunity this year heading out is a blessing for us, and it’s good for the basketball program, and also for us to still be playing and make it to the tournament. Making a run is huge for everybody.”
No. 4 Florida (26-8) vs. No. 8 Wisconsin (27-9)
Time: 6:59 p.m. TV: TBS
Bottom line: No team left in the NCAA tournament is as used to being in the Sweet 16 as Wisconsin. The Badgers are in their fourth straight regional semifinal, a feat no other team can claim. They have also reached the round of 16 in six of the last seven years. Florida is making its fifth consecutive Sweet 16 appearance, but that’s over a seven-year span. Wisconsin, which many felt was seeded to low at No. 8, comes in having just beaten the overall No. 1 seed, Villanova.
Extra time: Wisconsin has won eight consecutive overtime games, all but one away from home.
Experience helps: “You have to be playing some of your best basketball late,” Gard said of the Badgers’ four-year run. “Sometimes you have star power and upperclassmen leadership. Sometimes it’s just a matter of guys who’ve had experience. You draw on that and you have to play well. You can’t afford an eight- or 10-minute stretch of inconsistent basketball and I think our guys have handled that the right way.”
Stepping up: Florida’s starting center, John Egbunu, was sidelined Feb. 14 because of a torn ACL. He was averaging 7.8 points and 6.6 rebounds and was becoming a real force in the middle for the Gators. His replacement, sophomore Kevarrius Hayes, is one of the SEC’s leading shot blockers.