Kennedy Meeks deserved at least co-Most Outstanding Player.
Were you a bit surprised that Joel Berry was named the Final Four MOP over his senior teammate? Berry played courageously for the two games in Phoenix on sprained ankles. And after going only 2 for 14 in the national semifinals against Oregon, Berry came back to bail out his cold-shooting mates in the championship game.
With 22 points, he became the first player since Bill Walton in 1972 and ’73 to score at least 20 in consecutive national title games. Berry had 20 points in the loss to Villanova last year. He was fabulous against the Zags, no question about that. The second-team All-ACC guard hit his first three-point attempt and finished with the team’s only four long bombs, plus six assists in the 71-65 victory.
But Meeks, who joined Berry and Justin Jackson on the All-Final Four team, had a weekend that Carolina fans may never forget. His double-double of 25 points and 14 rebounds against the Ducks was one of the greatest March Madness performances in history, and his eighth offensive rebound saved a game that nearly slipped away. Meeks came back with 7 points and 10 rebounds in the championship game, and his late block and steal helped break up a taut affair as Carolina outscored the Bulldogs 9-2 down the stretch. The big guy with the bigger smile closed out a college career in which he improved steadily and was the leading vote getter for ACC Honorable Mention.
Berry’s MOP selection over Meeks carries one more very important result, placement of his jersey in the rafters of the Smith Center. Coaching staff member Sean May’s jersey is up there for the same accomplishment in the 2005 Final Four. But it’s too bad Meeks’ weekend in the desert won’t also be so honored.
The team Most Valuable Player, as voted by the squad and coaches, is another way to get into the girders, and ACC Player of the Year Jackson, who has already earned his way into the rafters, will certainly get that award. Criteria has changed over the years, and perhaps Meeks’ No. 3 will find its way up there, as well.