Hey, did you hear the news? The Gonzaga Bulldogs are seeking their first NCAA championship today against those mean hoarders, the North Carolina Tar Heels. Most of us have probably seen a UNC game or two this season, but in case you haven’t, we are here to help you out.
Jake Lawrence from SB Nation’s UNC blog, appropriately named Tar Heel Blog, was kind enough to answer a few of our questions before tonight’s massive contest (but not kind enough to give us a favorable prediction).
1) UNC has looked really good these past couple of games. What does Gonzaga need to do to take home its first NCAA championship?
This seems like a cop-out, but this isn't rocket science. The Zags need to keep the Heels off the boards and force them into bad shot from the perimeter. In four of their seven losses, the Heels were out-rebounded by their opponent. In the other three losses, while UNC won the rebounding battle, they shot 25% or worse from three.
It's been a running joke this season that UNC's best offensive play is a missed shot, but there's more truth to that than most would like to admit. Other than Saturday night, we saw it most prominently against Arkansas on Meeks' timely tip-in after the more-controversial-than-it-should-have-been no-call involving Joel Berry.
North Carolina also has a tendency to get stagnant on offense and not attack the rim for a variety of reasons. Sometimes they stop looking inside and Joel Berry, Justin Jackson, and Nate Britt just hoist up all kinds of shots. Other times, various zone defenses have led to confusion, they got out of rhythm, and then started rushing their offense and forced bad shots. Georgia Tech, Virginia (second game), and Duke (third game) were the three losses where UNC still won the battle on the boards. The Heels were 5-26, 4-16 and 5-22 from behind the arc in those three games- less than 25%.
2) How in the world are y'all so good at offensive rebounding? What is it about Kennedy Meeks that he can get the job done so well and so often.
Strong rebounding performances have long been a staple of North Carolina basketball teams. From an individual standpoint, guys like Meeks, Luke Maye, and Tony Bradley (and Brice Johnson last year), really understand how to use their bodies and they put themselves in great position. Body control and basketball IQ are traits the UNC coaching staff have long recruited and then developed over a player's career.
They also have the depth to just rotate players in and out of a game, and that is not an accident. That's part of Roy's philosophy. This means the post players often work more as a tandem on the glass rather than relying on just one or two studs. Meeks does not have that performance against Oregon without Isaiah Hicks being absolutely relentless for most of the night. Hicks had a box score that most would like to forget, but his willingness to keep attacking hard meant the Ducks had to account for him. That freed up Kennedy to get into a rhythm.
That depth also means that UNC players are often less fatigued at the end of a game. Williams' system already requires intense physical conditioning compared to most other programs. That conditioning combined with depth in the post means they wear down their opponents over 40 minutes. That eventually equates to a rebounding advantage.
3) What scares you (if anything) about facing this Gonzaga team?
The balanced attack. I don't think Gonzaga has any one player that immediately jumps out as being a terrible mismatch. After facing Dillon Brooks, Tyler Dorsey, Malik Monk, and De'Aaron Fox in back-to-back games, there isn't an athletic juggernaut that can impose their will. However, like UNC, Gonzaga is largely a team that is greater than the sum of it's parts.
The Zags have enough depth in the post that they can overcome a poor perimeter performance. Conversely, they have just enough firepower on the outside that they can make their opponent pay if Karnowski, Williams and Collins receive most of the defensive attention. Pick your poison. UNC has been much the same way this season.
Against Kentucky, everyone knew Fox and Monk had to be contained. The same was said about Dorsey and Brooks for Oregon. There is not an easy answer for Gonzaga.
4) UNC has some size in the frontcourt, but Gonzaga has even more size. How do you see the team dealing with the monstrous body of Przemek Karnowski first, and then switching gears and defending Zach Collins right after that (or both at the same time)?
Good question. Gonzaga is taller and, in Karnowski's case, heavier. This is really the first team UNC has played a team all year that can go three deep in the paint. I'm not convinced, however, that the Zags have met a front court as athletic or versatile as the Heels, who rotate four post players.
Meeks and Karnowski will be a great battle, but even this strikes me as more of a power (Karnowski) vs finesse (Meeks) matchup. If that isn't working, Hicks' and Bradley's athleticism throws a different look into the mix. I love Karnowski, but I think it's fair to be concerned if he is athletic or versatile enough to handle the different UNC skill sets.
That doesn't include Luke Maye's ability to stretch the defense. Just the threat of his shooting range could draw Collins away from the paint, opening the lanes, and taking Collins away from good rebounding position. Plus, while Maye isn't a defensive stalwart, I'm curious to see if he's quick enough to guard Collins (who is also your typical foreign-born stretch four).
North Carolina just has so much versatility (yes, Gonzaga has some as well), and the Kentucky game showed us that Roy will tinker with line-ups in order to exploit those mismatches.
5) Final prediction? Does North Carolina cut down the nets and ruin the hopes and dreams of an entire fanbase forever and ever, or does Gonzaga continue to be the team of destiny?
North Carolina. 84-77. Free throws will not be a problem in the final minutes.