GREENVILLE – There isn’t time for fatigue in the NCAA Tournament. Or so the coach-speak repeated by players scrambling within quick-turnaround schedules goes.
But some NCAA Tournament teams gained from a week off more than others, none more than Frank Martin’s max-effort South Carolina Gamecocks.
No. 7 seed South Carolina in a historic 93-73 victory over No. 10 Marquette on Friday night played its best game of the season.
“When we play fresh, we play loose,” senior guard Duane Notice said Saturday at Bon Secours Wellness Arena, “and we play hard and we’re a better team.”
The Gamecocks, seven days after a first-round SEC Tournament loss to Alabama, looked like the team that burst out of the gate in November with eight straight wins. The start included double-digit victories over Michigan, Syracuse and Vermont.
They looked like the team that, after a five-day holiday break, rolled to a 5-0 start in SEC play.
The Gamecocks in advancing to a second-round game Sunday night against No. 2 seed Duke looked much better than the guys that lost five of seven games coming into the NCAA Tournament.
“The rest was beneficial to us because it allowed us to just breathe for a few days and allowed us to get mentally focused,” Notice said. “It kind of stunk that we didn’t get to compete for an SEC (Tournament) championship, but in the long run, God works in funny ways. It kind of helped us (Friday night).”
South Carolina, after having played only two games in the previous 12 days, outscored Marquette 25-7 in points off turnovers.
It was 16-2 on fastbreaks.
The Gamecocks in hiking boots are more athletic than Marquette. But not that much.
But it’s not like South Carolina players spent last week in hammocks.
“We definitely took that time to prepare and get better individually and as a team,” sophomore guard PJ Dozier said.
Dozier also said the Gamecocks “absolutely” benefited from the break.
Freshman forward Maik Kotsar agreed.
“It was rest the whole team needed, I think,” Kotsar said. “And then the excitement and enthusiasm that came from getting the NCAA bid really was there in our practices.”
Other teams play hard, too. But aggressively clogging passing lanes the Martin way requires a more physical commitment.
That might help explain why some of Martin’s teams, including his last two at South Carolina, get off to swell starts but slip a bit down the stretch of the regular season.
Note, however, that three of Martin’s four NCAA Tournament teams at Kansas State fared well in regular-season games after Jan. 31:
5-6 in 2008
7-2 in 2010
8-1 in 2011
6-3 in 2012
Still, extra rest might explain why Martin’s teams, given a chance to catch a collective break, start well in the NCAA Tournament.
Martin with four wins at Kansas State and Friday night at South Carolina is 5-0 in the first round.
Duke’s ‘road game’
Fans can trigger energy, too. The crowd support should be even more fascinating Sunday night than Friday night.
South Carolina fans are likely to take up for Arkansas against North Carolina with “S-E-C!” chants. You know lots of Duke people will pull against the Tar Heels.
But North Carolina fans that stick around for the second game are way more likely to pull for the Gamecocks than Duke.
With a few Arkansas fans chiming in. Participatory conference pride is almost exclusively an SEC thing.
“We expect it to be a road game, like any game we play in the ACC,” Duke senior guard Matt Jones said. “But we’re ready.”
So it’s a little dangerous for Gamecocks fans to look ahead to a Sweet 16 game in New York City against Baylor or Southern Cal.
Duke remains the Las Vegas favorite to win it all.
Mike Krzyzewski already has five national titles.
The Blue Devils finally got healthy last week in Brooklyn and grinded out an ACC Tournament championship with four wins in four days.
Freshman forward Jayson Tatum is playing like a first-overall NBA draft pick.
Grayson Allen is the best sixth man in the country.
But against a Duke team that has played five games in the last 10 days, that extra rest might help the Gamecocks again.
Follow Gene Sapakoff on Twitter @sapakoff