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UNC Basketball vs. James Madison: Player of the Game - Armando Bacot

Bacot seemed to be moving in first gear during UNC’s first three games. Against JMU, the senior center put the pedal down as Carolina cruised.

NCAA Basketball: James Madison at North Carolina Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Carolina’s sluggish start has frustrated fans eager for the type of dominance shown last March. Brady Manek’s departure and replacement by Pete Nance isn’t a like-for-like swap, and the Tar Heels are learning to account for each other on the floor. Armando Bacot, blessed with post operating room thanks to Manek’s range and quick trigger, now finds himself slightly more crowded. It has affected his rebounding numbers.

Readers will remember the magical run Bacot went on during last year’s tournament run: six double-doubles (an NCAA record) and 16.5 rebounds per game, including 15 against Kansas on one wheel. So it’s been a bit puzzling — almost alarming — to see the modest rebounding numbers he’s produced against far weaker teams than he locked horns with in the tournament. Bacot had not recorded double-digit rebounds in any of Carolina’s wins against UNCW, College of Charleston, or Gardner-Webb.

That all got solved yesterday when James Madison came to town.

All Armando did was grab a career-high 23 rebounds (11 in the first half) as the Tar Heels addressed some of their defensive shortcomings against a team that had, until yesterday, averaged 105 points per game. Now, the Dukes scored 123 against Valley Forge, so those numbers skew high, but the bottom line is, JMU can score buckets.

It got a lot tougher when the Tar Heels were all over them, not allowing the Dukes clean looks at the basket. When the misses at the rim came, Bacot was usually there to clean up the glass, gifting Carolina more possessions where they built a 19-point first half lead. Bacot also led the team in +/- with +15, on a day where everyone who touched the court (save Tyler Nickel with -2) had a minimum +6.

Hopefully, Bacot has shaken off the early season doldrums, and is ready to board like an All-American. Against Portland on Thanksgiving, there is every possibility that he could overtake Kennedy Meeks (1,052) and Billy Cunningham (1,067) to become UNC’s fourth all-time leading rebounder. Bacot is currently sitting on 1,048, as he marches towards an inevitable climb to the summit of Carolina hoops, Tyler Hansbrough’s 1,219 mark.

If Bacot can maintain this type of pace, expect him to take the record before the first Duke game.