GLENDALE, Ariz. — Kennedy Meeks said Monday night’s national championship game between his North Carolina team and Gonzaga — and in particular the battle between himself and Przemek Karnowski — will be “a dogfight.”
A more accurate description might be an elephant fight.
There is a good chance that whichever team is able to win the physical game in the paint will wind up winning the (heavyweight) title.
In an age when guards are the most important commodity in college basketball — the last three most outstanding players of this tournament were guards — this game likely will come down to the big guys jostling and jabbing within a three-foot radius of the rim.
“A very big low-post matchup,” UNC coach Roy Williams said Sunday.
And a rarity.
“Mark [Few, Gonzaga’s head coach] and I were talking about it a few minutes ago, that all year long we’ve had to send our big guys out on the court to play against all those screen-and-pop guys that want to shoot three-point shots,” Williams said, “and how comfortable it is when you have to tell Kennedy and Karnowski that you don’t have to do that this game.”
The huge fellas said they are looking forward to manhandling each other.
“I think it’s going to be a lot of big bodies hitting around,” Karnowski said. “He’s a big guy like me. He likes to play it back-to-the-basket a lot . . . It will be a good old-school matchup playing against each other.”
Said Meeks: “These are the games I live for.”
Karnowski, who grew up in Poland, said he has studied plenty of video of the traditional low-post players of yore, including Shaquille O’Neal and Hakeem Olajuwon. Meeks didn’t have to look as far for his role model. It’s former Carolina center Sean May, who now is the director of player personnel for the program.
“I love it, especially being a former big guy,” May said of this matchup, not only between Meeks and Karnowski but between their respective teammates, Isaiah Hicks and Zach Collins. “You have four guys who are really good post players and it’s going to be a heavyweight matchup.”
Both teams often will have both of those players on the floor together, which is why Few regards the focus on the rim’s front porch as a team concern, not an individual one.
“We faced a really good offensive rebounding team in South Carolina. West Virginia was an excellent offensive rebound team. Their percentages were very high. And a lot of their offense was generated from that,” Few said. “But I mean, Carolina is just a different entity from that.”
Even the guards seem enthralled by the mass madness that will be taking place.
“I wouldn’t want to be in the middle of them two battling, you know?” Gonzaga guard Josh Perkins said. “Those two big guys. I’m sure you’re gonna hear some smacks and some pounding down there. Those guys are gonna be sore after the game. Both of them.”
One of them might not care. One of them might be busy collecting hardware.
Back in 2005, May was the last true low-post policeman, a true moored-to-the-block pugilist, to win the tournament’s most outstanding player award. There seems to be a good chance that whoever wins this game will do it on the back of another. Meeks (25 points, 14 rebounds) and Collins (14 points, 13 rebounds) had double-doubles Saturday.
“I’d like it,” May said of having another behemoth win the award. “And I’d like it if it were Kennedy, because it would be a great way for him to go out [as a senior]. And hopefully if he does that, that means we’ve won. And that’s all I care about.”
TALE OF THE TAPE
A look at the heavyweights in Monday night’s NCAA championship game:
(Player, Height/Weight/Class, 2016-17 season avg)
6-10, 260, Sr.
12.7 ppg, 9.4 rpg
6-9, 242, Sr.
11.8 ppg, 5.4 rpg
7-1, 300, RSr.
12.3 ppg, 5.8 rpg
7-0, 230, Fr.
10.0 ppg, 5.9 rpg