This is Madness: The Thunderbeat sports section makes its picks
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In the modern era of college basketball where dunks and a barrage of three-pointers fill social media, the fundamentals of the game continue to reign supreme. There is no other team in the country that can beat anyone with sheer fundamental basketball than the North Carolina Tar Heels.
Head coach Roy Williams is one of the best college basketball coaches to have ever paced the sidelines of a court. His coaching philosophy prioritizes rebounding, fast breaks, and taking advantage of lapses in the opposing offense and defense.
This ultimately led them to a 32-7 record in 2017 and a consecutive appearance in the National Championship.
It was evident in North Carolina’s Final Four win over Oregon that the idea of fundamentals winning games actually wins games. Though both squads had 43 rebounds the Tar Heels were able to get them at just the right moment, rebounding the two missed free throws that Oregon could have taken up the floor for a game-winner.
The boys in Carolina blue are led by junior forward and Atlantic Coast Conference Player of the Year Justin Jackson. Jackson leads the Tar Heels in scoring, averaging 18.3 points per game, and provides a deep threat from behind the arc.
Senior forward Kennedy Meeks is the old-school big man who goes to get rebounds (9.4 RPG) and pounds through the paint (12.7 PPG while shooting 55.5%). Meeks has also accumulated 13 double-doubles on the season, fourth best in the ACC. Look to see Meeks bully his way into becoming a force in the championship game.
In terms of match-ups, Gonzaga’s starting five consists of a duo of seven foot tall big men and shorter guards. Jackson will be a key guy to get out on the perimeter, picking on the shorter outside defenders. Roy Williams will look to use the presence of Jackson and Meeks to get junior guard Joel Berry II some looks on the perimeter as well. As soon as North Carolina begins to let it fall from beyond the arc, the inside will open up, which is where Meeks flourishes.
This time last year, the Tar Heels lost to Villanova on a long three point buzzer-beater to win the National Championship. Tonight, North Carolina comes out on top and wins their sixth title in program history.
On Selection Sunday, 68 teams were given new hope, as their basketball squad received a bid to compete in the NCAA Men’s College Basketball Championship. Some schools simply made the tournament with a happy to be here mentality, as they were paired up with first round match-ups against some of the powerhouses of college basketball. But a lot of the teams came into the tournament with a serious mindset towards winning. Gonzaga and North Carolina were two of those teams.
Both being rewarded with 1 seeds in the tournament, the Bulldogs of Gonzaga wanted to prove that you shouldn’t sleep on their 32-1 record, even if they are just a mid-major team. Meanwhile, the North Carolina Tarheels had a different goal in mind; vengeance. One year after watching their championship hopes dashed as Villanova’s Kris Jenkins’ long buzzer beating three pointer soared through the net to conclude the greatest NCAA basketball Championship game of all time, they have a chance to win it all again.
And tonight, they will be redeemed.
That all starts with the matchups between the players. North Carolina’s biggest asset is ACC Player of the Year Justin Jackson. Putting up 18.3 points per game in the regular season and 20.2 in the tournament, Jackson has been a huge scoring threat all season long. Tonight, he will have a four inch advantage over Gonzaga’s Jordan Matthews, who will matchup with him most of the night. Jackson will thrive, as overall he is the best player on the floor.
The biggest matchup to focus on isn’t between Jackson or Matthews, however. The matchup between North Carolina’s Kennedy Meeks and Gonzaga’s Przemek Karnowski will dictate the entire flow of both teams offense. This matchup features two heavyweight centers, and between them you should see a rivalry within a rivalry as they are both considered among the nation’s best big men.
Karnowski, whose beard has gained about as much attention as his play, has struggled slightly during the tournament. He has seen his numbers alter from 12.3 points per game to 10.0, but more importantly he has seen his affect on the boards dip from around six rebounds a game, to a measly four.
Meeks, who has averaged a double double during the tournament, has only seen his play increase down the stretch. He will use his momentum to outplay Karnowski on every aspect of the game, and North Carolina will run away with it.
This squad has been here before. And their is nothing better to learn from then the sting of last second defeat. No miracle shot will stop them this time.