One thing you are going to read over and over about the North Carolina Tar Heels is they are a great offensive rebounding team, and that was on full display at the end of their Final Four matchup against Oregon.
Let’s ignore the fact for a second that Oregon essentially decided not boxing out was the preferred method of choice here, but these were the two biggest rebounds in the NCAA Tournament.
Here is the main issue: Gonzaga hasn’t been the best defensive rebounding team all season. In fact, there was such an ugly stretch of it that we were forced to write about it, during the midst of an undefeated run when seemingly everything was going right.
On the year, the Zags’ defense limits opponent’s offensive rebounding percentage to 26.1 percent, a few ticks below the national average and good for No. 47 in the country. But if you dive a bit deeper into the numbers, this also is a bit inflated (or deflated?) against some of the competition the Zags have played this season.
In total, the Zags’ opponents on average have secured 10.7 offensive rebounds per game. However, if you pull out the numbers against schools from the power conferences (adding Xavier into the mix), that number goes up to 16 per game.
And the Zags haven’t even necessarily struggled against the better competition in this arena. The Portland Pilots pulled down 27 offensive rebounds against the Zags in two games this season.
One of UNC’s trademarks all season has been their ability to secure the offensive rebound. They’ve grabbed nearly 16 per game all season, and you have to imagine that number might rise higher against Gonzaga. After all, West Virginia was able to stay in the game by securing 21 boards against the Zags. If North Carolina is able to turn half of those into points, it’s around an additional 16 points for the Tar Heels, potentially more.
That makes the matchup on North Carolina’s Kennedy Meeks that much more important. Meeks had eight offensive rebounds against Oregon, and he has hit double digits in that regard this season before. His offensive rebounding percentage is ranked No. 8 out of all players in the nation. He is one of the most aggressive forwards in the nation, and the Zags will have their hands full.
The Zags have options to counter that. Zach Collins is a fantastic defensive rebounder, snaring 10 of those against South Carolina. Collins defensive rebounding percentage ranks No. 79 in the nation, and he is mobile enough to compete with Meeks. We might see a lot more of Collins on Meeks against North Carolina.
Overall, the Zags just need to place an emphasis on the boards, because it truly is a way the game could slip away from them. Just ask the Oregon Ducks.