Kennedy Meeks gives UNC something South Carolina didn’t have against Gonzaga

The hero of North Carolina’s semifinal win will be vital against Gonzaga.

Kennedy Meeks had the best game of his college career on Saturday. The North Carolina Tar Heels senior center totaled 25 points on 11-of-13 shooting. He had 14 rebounds, eight of them on offense. His on-court plus-minus was plus-8, the best for any player on either of the two teams on the court in Glendale, Ariz.

He is usually good, but this game was abnormally great for Meeks. His career highs entering the night were 25 points and 17 boards. Forgive me for this highly unscientific way of measuring production, but Meeks’ highest total of points and rebounds in a single game entering the night had been 36. Against power conference teams, it was 31, against Duke in this year’s ACC tournament. His new career high: 39.

These are just counting stats, but you get the idea. Meeks was dominant. He was also highly efficient, so there’s not much doubt this was the best game of his life. It happened to come in a national semifinal against Oregon at the Final Four. His Tar Heels won by a 77-76 score and will play Gonzaga for every marble on Saturday. The last play of the game was a Meeks offensive rebound before the buzzer to seal it.

The numbers do a good enough job telling the story of Meeks’ night. When he shot, the ball went through the hoop. When his teammates shot and missed, Meeks was crashing the glass with abandon. UNC scored 19 second-chance points, and Meeks was the principle reason. Thanks to Meeks’ steady diet of plexiglass, UNC’s offensive rebounding rate for the season is the best in the land, at 42 percent.

That’s Meeks’ greatest asset as a player, in general. When he’s been on the court this season and a UNC player has missed a shot, Meeks has won the rebound 16 percent of the time. He’s now scooped up 148 offensive boards this season. It’s outrageous. He was eighth in the country in O-boards per game entering Saturday, but all but one player above him is from a non-major league that’s decidedly not the ACC. On balance, you can call Meeks the best or second-best offensive rebounder in the country. His only real peer is Wake Forest’s John Collins, who’s not in the Final Four.

If North Carolina beats Gonzaga on Monday, Meeks grabbing a bunch of offensive rebounds will have a lot to do with it. But he brings other things that you need to beat the Zags — things South Carolina didn’t have when it lost to them on Saturday.

Meeks is a center’s center. That’ll be helpful against Gonzaga.

We’ve established that he’s an O-boards monster. But Meeks is unsurprisingly also a great defensive rebounder, with a top-50 individual rate nationally. He comes up with 25 percent of the shots other teams miss. He’s a good post defender, even though a lot of that can’t show up on the stat sheet. He’s a decent shot-blocker. His individual defensive rating this year is by far the best of his career, at about 93 points per 100 possessions when he’s on the floor. That’s the best on UNC by a country mile.

South Carolina doesn’t have bigs like Meeks, or like front-court partners Isaiah Hicks or Justin Jackson (when he’s playing power forward). The Gamecocks’ bigs did a commendable job on Saturday, at least insofar as Gonzaga’s pair of 7-foot centers, Przemek Karnowski and Zach Collins, only had five offensive boards combined.

South Carolina’s defense is outstanding, but it’s more geared toward stopping teams with great guards. The Gamecocks shut down the three-point line for most of the season. Guard Sindarius Thornwell is an elite perimeter defender. But they don’t have any rim protectors in Meeks’ stratosphere. Collins and Karnowski scored 27 points on a combined 12-of-22 shooting and had 18 rebounds in total, most of them Collins’.

Gonzaga’s offense has great balance. The Bulldogs can score from wherever, more or less. But getting an edge against Karnowski and Collins is critical. There isn’t more than a handful of players in the country you’d rather trot out against either of them than Meeks. He’s probably a better matchup against the bigger, less nimble Karnowski, but he’ll be the key in any success UNC has containing either of those two giants.

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North Carolina vs. Oregon final score: Heels headed to the national championship game

UNC, the odds-on favorite to win the whole thing, gets a chance to prove it now.

Gonzaga vs. North Carolina. That’s your national championship matchup Monday night after the Tar Heels dispatched of the Oregon Ducks, 77-76, in the second national semifinal from Glendale, Ariz.

For most of the proceedings, picture North Carolina like the big kid on the playground with Oregon trying like hell to get swings off, but the Tar Heels just held them at an arm’s length for most of the game, and led the entire second half. The Ducks threatened and did so valiantly in their first Final Four since 1939, but in the end it wasn’t enough.

A wild last two minutes almost cost the Tar Heels the game, including four missed free throws. But clutch offensive rebounds off of missed free throws saved the game.

UNC’s Kennedy Meeks played essentially the game of his life with 25 points (a career high) on 11-13 shooting from the field and 14 rebounds, seven of which were offensive.

“If it wasn’t for Kennedy Meeks we wouldn’t have been in the basketball game,” Carolina coach Roy Williams said to CBS after the game.

There is no getting around the fact that this is a landmark achievement for the Tar Heels to get back to the national championship game. We all remember what happened last year when Villanova vanquished the thought of overtime with a shot for the ages.

Usually teams don’t get back to championship games when they lose, but Carolina has climbed all the way back. It’s now blue-blood UNC vs. one of the ultimate Cinderellas in Gonzaga. We can’t wait.

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March Madness 2017: Bracket, schedule, live scores, and more for NCAA tournament

The NCAA tournament rolls on this month. Here’s what to know about college basketball’s biggest event.

March Madness is upon us. The NCAA tournament is finally here, and we’re looking at three weeks of high drama and great college basketball.

It’s been a somewhat odd college basketball season. Nobody’s emerged as the obvious best team in the sport, a la Kentucky at certain points under John Calipari. But there are at least nine or 10 realistic national title contenders, including some teams who have done it recently (Villanova, Louisville, Kentucky, Duke, and more) and some who have fallen short time and time again (hello, Gonzaga!).

That means we’re looking at a field that’s even more wide open than normal, and it’s normally pretty wide open, anyway. The tournament is nicknamed Madness because it is always outrageous in its own unique way, and we should expect more of the same in 2017. Some elite teams will lose way earlier than they should, and we’re going to see at least a double-digit seed or two crash the Sweet 16. Maybe the Elite Eight?

The beauty of this tournament is that these things are going to happen. We know we will have chaos, because that’s the trademark of this event. The trick is figuring out where and when, and the only way to get those answers is to watch.

The format

There are 68 teams in the field. Four of those teams are eliminated before the first round, by way of “First Four” games in Dayton, Ohio. The entire tournament is single-elimination, and it’s divided into four regions: the East, West, Midwest, and South. Winning the tournament requires six victories in a row, or seven if you’re a First Four team. The tournament runs until the national title game on April 3 in Glendale, Ariz.

The teams

East region

1. Villanova
2. Duke
3. Baylor
4. Florida
5. Virginia
6. SMU
7. South Carolina
8. Wisconsin
9. Virginia Tech
10. Marquette
11. Providence/USC
12. UNC Wilmington
13. East Tennessee State
14. New Mexico State
15. Troy
16. Mount St. Mary’s

West region

1. Gonzaga
2. Arizona
3. Florida State
4. West Virginia
5. Notre Dame
6. Maryland
7. Saint Mary’s
8. Northwestern
9. Vanderbilt
10. VCU
11. Xavier
12. Princeton
13. Bucknell
14. Florida Gulf Coast
15. North Dakota
16. South Dakota State

Midwest region

1. Kansas
2. Louisville
3. Oregon
4. Purdue
5. Iowa State
6. Creighton
7. Michigan
8. Miami
9. Michigan State
10. Oklahoma State
11. Rhode Island
12. Nevada
13. Vermont
14. Iona
15. Jacksonville State
16. NC Central/UC Davis

South region

1. North Carolina
2. Kentucky
4. Butler
5. Minnesota
6. Cincinnati
7. Dayton
8. Arkansas
9. Seton Hall
10. Wichita State
11. Kansas State
12. Middle Tennessee
13. Winthrop
14. Kent State
15. Northern Kentucky
16. Texas Southern

The bracket

You can download our latest complete, printable bracket right here.

The schedule and results (all times Eastern)

Tuesday, March 14 (First Four)

Mount St. Mary’s 67, New Orleans 66

Kansas State 95, Wake Forest 88

Wednesday, March 15 (First Four)

UC Davis 67, N.C. Central 63

USC 75, Providence 71

Thursday, March 16 (First Round)

Notre Dame 60, Princeton 58

Virginia 76, UNC-Wilmington 71

Butler 76, Winthrop 64

Gonzaga 66, South Dakota State 46

West Virginia 86, Bucknell 80

Florida 80, East Tennessee State University 65

Middle Tennessee State 81, Minnesota 72

Northwestern 68, Vanderbilt 66

Xavier 76, Maryland 65

Villanova 76, Mt. Saint Mary’s 56

St. Mary’s 85, VCU 77

Purdue 80, Vermont 70

Florida State 86, Florida Gulf Coast 80

Wisconsin 84, Virginia Tech 74

Arizona 100, North Dakota 82

Iowa State 84, Nevada 73

Friday, March 17 (First Round)

Michigan 92, Oklahoma State 91

Baylor 91, New Mexico State 73

Arkansas 77, Seton Hall 71

Oregon 93, Iona 77

Louisville 78, Jacksonville State 63

USC 66, SMU 65

UNC 103, Texas Southern 64

Rhode Island 84, Creighton 72

Kansas 100, UC Davis 62

Wichita State 64, Dayton 58

Duke 87, Troy 64

Cincinnati 75, Kansas State 61

Michigan State 78, Miami 58

Kentucky 79, Northern Kentucky 70

South Carolina 93, Marquette 73

UCLA 97, Kent State 80

Saturday, March 18 (Second Round)

No. 4 West Virginia 83, No. 5 Notre Dame 71

No. 8 Wisconsin 65, No. 1 Villanova 62

No. 1 Gonzaga 79, No. 8 Northwestern 73

No. 11 Xavier 91, No. 3 Florida State 66

No. 4 Butler 74, No. 12 Middle Tennessee 65

No. 2 Arizona 69, No. 7 St. Mary’s 60

No. 4 Florida 65, No. 5 Virginia 39

No. 4 Purdue 80, No. 5 Iowa State 76

Sunday, March 19 (Second Round)

No. 7 Michigan 73, No. 2 Louisville 69

No. 2 Kentucky 65, No. 10 Wichita State 62

No. 1 Kansas 90. No. 9 Michigan State 70

No. 1 North Carolina 72, No. 8 Arkansas 65

No. 3 Oregon 75, No. 11 Rhode Island 72

No. 3 Baylor 82, No. 11 USC 78

No. 7 South Carolina 88, No. 2 Duke 81

No. 3 UCLA 79, No. 6 Cincinnati 67

Thursday, March 23 (Sweet 16)

No. 3 Oregon 69, No. 7 Michigan 68

No. 1 Gonzaga 61, No. 4 West Virginia 58

No. 1 Kansas 98, No. 4 Purdue 66

No. 11 Xavier 73, No. 2 Arizona 71

Friday, March 24 (Sweet 16)

No. 1 North Carolina 92, No. 4 Butler 80

No. 7 South Carolina 70, No. 3 Baylor 50

No. 2 Kentucky 86, No. 3 UCLA 75

No. 4 Florida 84, No. 8 Wisconsin 83 (OT)

Saturday, March 25 (Elite 8)

No. 1 Gonzaga 83, No. 11 Xavier 59

No. 3 Oregon 74, No. 1 Kansas 60

Sunday, March 26 (Elite 8)

No. 7 South Carolina 77, No. 4 Florida 70

No. 1 North Carolina 75, No. 2 Kentucky 73

Saturday, April 1 (Final Four)

Gonzaga 77, South Carolina 73

North Carolina 77, Oregon 76

Monday, April 3

Championship Game: Gonzaga vs. North Carolina, 9 p.m. (CBS)

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Gonzaga vs. North Carolina 2017: Date, tipoff time, and TV channel for NCAA championship game

A brief look ahead at the Final Four’s final game.

The Gonzaga Bulldogs and North Carolina Tar Heels will play for college basketball’s national championship on Monday night. The Zags beat South Carolina in one national semifinal on Saturday, and the Ducks/Heels beat North Carolina/Oregon in the other. That sets the stage for what seems like an outstanding final chapter to this season.

Date and time for the national championship game

Monday, April 3 at 9 p.m. ET

TV channel for Gonzaga-UNC

CBS. The play-by-play announcer will be Jim Nantz, alongside analysts Grant Hill and Bill Raftery. Tracy Wolfson will report from the sidelines.

How do I stream the national title game?

March Madness Live is the official streaming home of the NCAA tournament. It’s available on CBS All-Access, Amazon Fire TV, Amazon Fire tablets, iPhone, iPad, and Apple Watch, Roku, and Microsoft Windows 10 mobile, desktop and Xbox One.

This should be a great final.

Gonzaga is a college basketball powerhouse. The Bulldogs have been a presence in the tournament for 19 seasons running. This is their first Final Four experience ever, though, which gives them a bit of an underdog’s feeling. (They aren’t really an underdog. I think they’re going to win this game.) Gonzaga was already on new ground just by getting to Glendale. There’s no reason not to break a little more.

The Zags got here by beating South Dakota State and Northwestern on the tournament’s opening weekend, West Virginia and Xavier in the West regional rounds, and a Cinderella South Carolina in a national semifinal on Saturday. They have the country’s top defense by adjusted efficiency and a great offense to go with it.

North Carolina is loaded with talent, just like always. If the Tar Heels can win, they’ll avenge a crushing loss in last year’s national title game, when Villanova’s Kris Jenkins ruined them with a three-pointer at the buzzer. So this is a redemption shot, and it’s also a chance for Roy Williams to lock in his third title in his ninth Final Four. There’s a lot of juicy narrative on both sides, though most neutral observers will probably choose to side with the team that’s never won a title before.

The Heels’ path to the title game went through Texas Southern, Arkansas, Butler, Kentucky, and Oregon. Their Elite Eight win against UK was one of the tournament’s most compelling dramas. If they manage to beat Gonzaga, that likely will be, too.

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