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UNC Basketball Summer Preview: Armando Bacot

There will be high expectations for the rising junior big man.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Wisconsin at North Carolina IndyStar-USA TODAY Sports

After breaking down versatile and athletic guard Anthony Harris last week, it’s time for the next installment of our UNC Basketball summer preview series. Although he hasn’t officially made the decision to come back to school, it seems all but certain that Armando Bacot will be suiting up in Carolina blue next season. Thus, let’s take a deeper look at Bacot and what he brings for the Heels in 2021-22.

Past preview links:

May 30th: Leaky Black

June 6th: Anthony Harris

Bacot averaged 12.3 points, 7.8 rebounds, and 0.9 blocks as a sophomore last season while shooting 62.8% from the field and 66.4% from the free throw line. He was far and away Carolina’s most consistent player from start to finish. Despite the arrival of two stud freshman bigs in Day’Ron Sharpe and Walker Kessler as well as the presence of veteran Garrison Brooks to potentially siphon production, Bacot managed to improve on his freshman year numbers while also greatly increasing his efficiency (46.9% to 62.8%).

At 6’10, 240 pounds, Bacot is a load to handle in the paint. This past season, he evolved into a legitimate back-to-the-basket scorer. His footwork improved, he was more decisive with the ball, and he even developed a little turnaround flick that’s somewhat reminiscent of Brice Johnson. Although the Heels struggled at times to get the ball to their bigs down low, Bacot was the guy who, if he got the opportunity, you felt confident he was going to make the right play. Bacot’s impact offensively goes far beyond just his individual scoring ability, though.

With guys like Sharpe drawing so much attention from opposing defenses, Bacot was often the beneficiary. The Heels’ big-to-big passing, as per usual, was their saving grace. As a result, Bacot helped create lots of easy baskets, whether for himself or for teammates. Moreover, his relentless tenacity on the glass created many second, third, and even fourth opportunities for a team, that...well...needed them.

For as impressive as Bacot was offensively, you could make the argument that he made even more improvements on the defensive side of the ball. As a freshman, Bacot had a hard time keeping up. Physically, he wasn’t quite at the level of ACC big men. He still held his own pretty well, but he would get bullied when going up against, say, a Gonzaga frontcourt. When getting switched onto smaller guards, he had trouble staying in front of the ball.

However, we saw marked improvements in Bacot’s defense as a sophomore. He got much better at moving his feet laterally and staying with his man, and his defensive awareness was on another level. Some of that is getting used to the system, just knowing where you’re supposed to be on any given play. A lot of it, though, can be attributed to Bacot’s hard work and dedication to getting better on that side of the ball. He didn’t get to showcase it regularly due to the abundance of length on the Heels’ roster, but Bacot has the chance to be a true rim protector this upcoming season.

Speaking of the roster makeup, things will look vastly different next season, at least from Bacot’s perspective. He is the only big man from last year’s team that’s expected to return. Granted, Hubert Davis did go out and get two stretch fours in Brady Manek and Justin McKoy, but between the coaching change and the departures of so many Carolina bigs, it’s safe to say that this squad will be different than the Tar Heel teams we’re used to seeing. But is that such a bad thing?

Coach Davis has been vocal about his desire to put more of an emphasis on spacing. He aims to maintain the same foundation that Carolina has had for so many years, just with a slightly more modern-day/NBA approach. Bacot could very well be the main beneficiary of these stylistic changes, which is exactly why Davis believes Bacot could be ACC player of the year next season.

Although Bacot certainly took advantage of playing alongside other talented bigs, there’s no reason to think he can’t anchor the post himself. Another area that Davis has stressed profusely is shooting, and he’s even mentioned that Bacot is looking to extend his game beyond the three-point line. At this point, about every other aspect of his game is polished, at least to a degree. While I don’t believe Bacot hitting threes is imperative to the team’s success, if he does, the rest of the country better watch out.