The North Carolina Tar Heels’ nightmarish season just keeps getting worse. Carolina entered its January ACC schedule on a two-game winning streak with seemingly a good chance at extending it to four or five. They were looking at three straight home games against Georgia Tech, Pittsburgh, Clemson, all of which were picked to finish in the bottom half of the conference.
However, the Heels put together one of the worst defensive performances of the season and allowed the Yellow Jackets to leave the Dean Dome with a 96-83 victory. To make matters worse, on Wednesday, Pittsburgh erased a double-digit deficit in the second half to hand Carolina a second straight loss.
The only real positive to draw from that Pitt game was the improved play of Armando Bacot. Bacot finished the game with 15 points and 9 rebounds on 6-11 shooting. His aggressiveness helped the Tar Heels build a nice cushion in the first half but an increase in defensive pressure from Pitt along with softer play from Bacot in the second allowed the Panthers to get back in it.
In the five games prior, Bacot made 9 of his 38 shot attempts (24%) and averaged 6.2 ppg over that stretch. Those shooting/scoring numbers are bad enough as is, but for a big man in Roy Williams’ system, they’re basically unheard of. Freshman or not, Bacot has to be able to play better and more consistent basketball if the Heels want a chance at salvaging this season.
Size and strength are not really the problem for Bacot and he’s shown an ability to operate out of the post under the right circumstances. However, his touch around the rim seemingly comes and goes. One game he’ll be automatic from everywhere inside ten feet and the next he’ll miss consecutive chances right at the rim. Moreover, he struggles when faced with a double team, which is how Pittsburgh was able to disrupt his rhythm, and he just has a general problem with decision-making when the ball is in his hands.
The keys for Bacot, and really the entire team, are decisiveness and confidence. He has a tendency to put the ball on the ground for too long and that almost always results in a negative play for the Heels. When he receives the ball in the post, his first thought needs to be to score. Most of the time, the best way to beat a double team is to make your move before it gets there. There’ve been too many cases of Bacot getting bottled up by the defense and turning the ball over because he can’t make a decision.
Hesitancy has plagued Bacot and this entire Carolina ball club for the whole year but sooner or later, someone has got to step up and make a play. Garrison Brooks is doing just about all he can but really hasn’t gotten much help since Cole Anthony went down with a meniscus injury in December. It’s worth noting that the Tar Heels are 5-1 in games where Bacot shot 60% or better from the field. The Tar Heels will likely need him to hit that mark on Saturday if they want to keep their home winning streak against Clemson alive.