GREENVILLE, S.C. — Kennedy Meeks didn’t get to savor North Carolina’s win against Arkansas two years ago in the NCAA Tournament. Now he may be the Razorbacks’ biggest problem in this year’s Dance.
Arkansas will play top-seeded North Carolina on Sunday (6:10 p.m. ET, TNT) for the right to advance to the Sweet 16. Coincidentally, the last time the Razorbacks and Tar Heels met, the same prize was on the line. Meeks and North Carolina beat Arkansas, 87-78, in the 2015 NCAA Tournament in Jacksonville, Fla.
Meeks was a bruising 6-foot-10, 260-pound sophomore then. His matchup against Arkansas sophomore Bobby Portis, 6-11 and 242 pounds, was maybe the individual one-on-one matchup to behold. But Meeks didn’t last long. He twisted his knee after just 15 minutes of game time. Portis went on to finish with 18 points and 14 rebounds. Meeks’ team went on to win the game.
Meeks now gets Portis’ then-lieutenant, Moses Kingsley. Kingsley played sparingly behind Portis that year, but did log 4 points and 5 rebounds in 14 minutes against North Carolina that year. He’s grown, too.
Kingsley doesn’t have Meeks’ girth, but he has his height. He has his skill. He has a better touch and more depth to his game. By most accounts, Kingsley, like Portis, is the better player than Meeks. So what’s the problem?
Bodying him up isn’t easy. Meeks’ numbers have only better gotten better since that 2015 season.
And consider Moses Kingsley’s in the same years:
Meeks said he wanted as little part of Kingsley as possible come Sunday.
“He’s a great defender, major key to their team,” Meeks said. “And our main objective, of course, is to try to get him out of the game as much as possible, attacking the ball inside, and it will open the things up for our guards and Justin (Jackson) and Joel (Berry) for easy shots.”
Kingsley exits and North Carolina could impose its rebounding will even further.
No team in the country outrebounds opponents like North Carolina does. The Tar Heels are tops in the country in rebounding margin. They average 13.1 more rebounds a game than the teams they face. For some perspective, the second-ranked team in rebounding margin is St. Mary’s at 9.3.
That’s troubling for an Arkansas team that was dominated rebounding-wise against Seton Hall in the first round, 46-32. Arkansas coach Mike Anderson knows his team wasn’t good against the Pirates. And he knows if it happens against North Carolina, a trip back to Fayetteville is on the docket late Sunday night.
“They’ve got eight pros, have you seen all those guys they got? Eight, nine pros. You got pros, they can go get it. And they’ve got size. They’ve got girth. They’ve got experienced guys.”
Manny Watkins, though, relishes that. Arkansas is the underdog, just like the last two times Arkansas and North Carolina met. No big deal. Just like the last two times.
“I think it’s fun. It’s an opportunity,” Watkins said. “They’re a 1 seed, so what more fun can you have than knocking off a 1 seed and moving on in the tournament?”