March Madness is nearing its apex as the men's and women's Final Four matchups commence Saturday and Friday, respectively. The University of South Carolina will be featured both days as the No. 1-seeded women's team will take on No. 2 Stanford and the No. 7-seeded men's team will take on No. 1 Gonzaga.
Given both teams' success, I decided to check in with SC alum Brandon Shell to get his thoughts on this weekend's matchups.
Shell didn't fill out a bracket (unconfirmed that he doesn't live under a rock), but told me he's both surprised and excited about the men's team being the Cinderella of 2017 — the women were expected to make a run.
"It is a big shock, but you always have faith in your home school team," he said.
Shell grew up in Goose Creek, SC, about 90 minutes south of the University. The second-year lineman's fandom evolved from casual to avid once he set foot on campus and was immediately engulfed by the "Gamecock culture." But lately he's noticed an increase in support.
cough cough BANDWAGON ALERT cough cough
"It's crazy. You see all kinds of people walking around in Carolina gear now," Shell said. "You tend to pick up a lot of bandwagon fans. Some people that I don't see ever wearing Carolina stuff, I see them wearing it now. It's kind of crazy. The fans around here are loving it."
During his five years in Columbia, you could often find the 6'5", 324-pounder in the stands at Colonial Life Arena cheering on his friends, some of whom he keeps in contact with via Snapchat. The soft-spoken Shell is rather boisterous when it comes to school spirit and will host a watch party for this weekend's contests.
So, how about the Shell scouting report on Gonzaga?
"They have a pretty good defensive team just like we do," he said. "I think it's going to be a good defensive matchup. Whoever gets the most stops is going to win. The name of the game is two well-prepared defenses playing against each other, so it's going to be a defensive game."
To be clear, you're saying the Gamecocks match up evenly with the Zags on paper?
"I really think they match up well with anybody because we have a 6'6" point guard (PJ Dozier) with Sindarius Thornwell on the wing," Shell said. "He's unstoppable right now. That's how I feel."
Side note: Thornwell is averaging 25.8 points and 7.5 rebounds per game while shooting 50 percent from the field in tournament play. Cue Mark Jackson: "Sindarius Thornwell is a baaaaaaaaad man."
Shell picked South Carolina to win (shocker), but expects a 67-62 thriller. As for the women's game on Friday? A "blowout" win.
Monday, April 3, has the potential to be a historic day in the Carolinas as there's a chance for World War III aka UNC vs. (the original) USC with a national championship on the line. And, maybe more importantly, bragging rights.
"That would be great," Shell said. "Just having two Carolina teams in the Final Four is big. Then we can win the state battle again because we beat them in football the past couple of times. To beat them in basketball would be big, too."
ICE IN THE VEINS, BRANDON!