SOUTH CAROLINA GAMECOCKS VS. GONZAGA BULLDOGS (-6.5, O/U 138.5), Sat., 6 p.m. ET, University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Ariz.
Although Gonzaga and South Carolina come from different perches in the NCAA Tournament seeding hierarchy, both are considered somewhat unlikely Final Four candidates.
But they will meet Saturday in the first national semifinal, with the winner playing for the title Monday night.
The Gamecocks (26-10) are the more traditional longshot. They started the season 15-3 with a handful of impressive non-conference wins. But they faded down the stretch, losing six of their last nine before Selection Sunday.
South Carolina finished tied for third in the SEC and avoided bubble status, but was still something of an afterthought as the No. 7 seed in a loaded East bracket. Many observers didn?t think the Gamecocks would survive their first-round game against Marquette.
Instead, they used their suffocating defense and well-timed offense to rip through the region, beating Duke, Baylor and Florida as an underdog in each contest.
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Gonzaga will be making its first Final Four appearance in program history and, despite a reasonably manageable bracket, the Bulldogs didn?t get much respect from the media or oddsmakers.
The Bulldogs (36-1) were 10/1 to win the national title after the pairings were announced, lower odds than some No. 2 and 3 seeds, and were a popular pick to be the first No. 1 seed eliminated.
Second-seeded Arizona was a trendy pick to come out of the West, but its anticipated matchup with Gonzaga never materialized because the Wildcats were upset by Xavier.
The Bulldogs survived a close call in a chaotic Sweet 16 game against West Virginia before routing Xavier to give venerable coach Mark Few his first trip to the Final Four.
South Carolina's profile is similar to those we?ve seen make deep March runs from a similar starting point.
The Gamecocks have a defense that travels well and is lethal in the postseason. They found fresh legs just in time after fatigue was a likely culprit in their late-season slide.
They also have a legitimate star in SEC Player of the Year Sindarius Thornwell, who averages 21.6 points, 7.2 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 2.2 steals per game. The 6-5 senior was underappreciated on a national level before this postseason run.
Meanwhile, Gonzaga has been one of the most efficient teams in the country on both ends of the floor from the opening tip.
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The Bulldogs average 83.2 points per game while allowing 60.9, for a whopping differential of 22.3 points. They are the top field-goal percentage (36.4) defensive unit and No. 4 in scoring.
On offense, they are No. 2 nationally in field-goal percentage (50.9) and have great balance, with all five starters averaging double figures. They are led by the dynamic duo of junior guard Nigel Williams-Goss and gifted 7-1 center Przemek Karnowski, who is a matchup nightmare for every opponent.
Of course, skeptics will point toward those numbers being a bit skewed because Gonzaga spends a good portion of its season beating up on mostly meager competition in the West Coast Conference.
But the Bulldogs also have non-conference wins over Florida, Iowa State, Arizona and Tennessee to their credit. Their lone defeat came to BYU late in conference play.
This spread opened at Gonzaga -7 in most markets before fast settling down at the universal number of -6.5, where it remained as of Wednesday afternoon. The total opened at 138 in most markets and is widely available, although 138.5 can also be found at many sportsbooks.
One of these clubs will add another chapter to its historic season with a berth in the title game. Will it be the Zags or the Gamecocks?
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STATS TO KNOW
This is the first ever meeting between South Carolina and Gonzaga. According to the NCAA, Gonzaga had won 24 NCAA tournament games before this March. South Carolina had won four. The Zags have only trailed three times in the second half all season.