Here are the three matchups to watch as North Carolina and Gonzaga clash in the final game of the college basketball season.
Meeks vs. Karnowski
Kennedy Meeks is having a magnificent stretch so far in the NCAA Tournament. The senior from Charlotte led the Tar Heels past Kentucky in the Elite Eight while tallying seven points and a career-high 17 rebounds, and he followed that up by tying his career high in points (25) and grabbing 14 boards to help UNC outlast Oregon.
But tonight’s game against the Bulldogs presents Meeks with perhaps the greatest challenge of his career. Lining up against him will be Przemek Karnowski, the 7-foot-1-inch, 300-pound center that will look to slow down UNC’s leading rebounder, who himself checks in at 6-foot-10-inches and 260 pounds.
Meeks hasn’t matched up with a player this size since Florida State’s Michael Ojo (7-foot-1-inch, 304 pounds) back in January. But the Bulldogs’ big man presents a unique challenge because not only can he back a defender down in the post and get easy looks, he can also find open teammates and spur the offense as a facilitator in the high post.
Berry vs. Williams-Goss
The day before UNC defeated Oregon in the Final Four, point guard Joel Berry said he was at 85 percent after spraining both his ankles earlier in the tournament. He looked closer to 60 percent against the Ducks, however, as he admittedly struggled to get lift on his shots and finished the game 2-for-14 from the field.
Things won’t get any easier for Berry tonight, as he will face Gonzaga’s Nigel Williams-Goss, an All-America guard who presents several challenges for the gimpy North Carolina junior.
Williams-Goss stands at 6-foot-3-inches, meaning Berry could have issues getting up shots and driving by him if the two meet in isolation. And if Berry (6-foot-0-inches) has to guard Williams-Goss, the latter will have the size to shoot over him and get easy looks.
Experience vs. none
North Carolina has been here before. The Tar Heels will play in their 11th national title game, while the Bulldogs make their first appearance.
While some view experience as overrated, it will be interesting to see how Gonzaga handles the biggest stage in college basketball. It had a chance to bury South Carolina early Saturday, but the Bulldogs allowed the Gamecocks to go on a 14-0 run to tie things up midway through the second half. Whether the pressure of the moment had anything to do with it or not, Gonzaga showed it can get rattled.
North Carolina isn’t prone to scenarios like this either, but it helps to have a core of players that played in this kind of game just last year.