An exorcism was needed after Saturday’s disaster in Las Vegas. While last night’s 70-50 win over App State fell just short of that, it was an improved effort that addressed Carolina’s two primary shortcomings against Kentucky: defense and rebounding.
Principal among the participants was Armando Bacot. After being stifled for good portions of his match-up with Kentucky’s ultra-strong, ultra-physical Oscar Tshiebwe, Bacot had, shall we say... more favorable match-ups against the Mountaineers.
App State post players RJ Duhart, CJ Huntley, James Lewis, and Sasha Glushkov all combined for 9 points, 8 rebounds, and 7 fouls. Compare that to Bacot’s own line of 16 points and 10 rebounds. By himself. That’s a man against boys.
Carolina made a concerted effort to get the ball inside against a smaller Mountaineer team. On the first possession of the game, Caleb Love probed until he could get the ball into Bacot’s hands as if Hubert Davis promised swift punishment if any Tar Heel launched a shot before Bacot got a touch. Once he did and the double-team came, Bacot quickly got the ball to RJ Davis at the top of the key for an open three, one his four assists on the night.
Truthfully, Bacot could have had an even bigger night if his guards hadn’t had such a tough night delivering him catchable balls, or if App State wasn’t so aggressive trying to deny entry passes. The Mountaineers knew their fate was sealed if Bacot could post up on the block and work with impunity. They hassled and harried Bacot at the expense of staying with perimeter shooters, and were ultimately done in by Bacot still getting his shots off, combined with UNC’s 43.8% shooting from deep on the night.
Bacot and Dawson Garcia’s length bothered App State at the rim, and they combined for three blocks. Carolina held the Mountaineers to 23 second-half points, a far cry from the putrid defensive effort against Kentucky in Las Vegas.
As Hubert Davis’ ideas germinate and become more predictable and repeatable, one constant remains. Armando Bacot is the sun in Carolina’s universe, and all planets revolve around him. He sucks in defenders to create space for the shooters. His improved passing out of the double-teams is finding shooters. And when given time and space, he’s shown a knack for putting double moves on defenders and shooting high-percentage shots at the rim.
Once Bacot gets into a groove at the free-throw line, he’ll be a Hansbrough-type threat. Teams can’t live with him when he has a steady flow of post-entry feeds. As long as he isn’t bodied like he was against Purdue and Kentucky, Carolina will always have a fighting chance.