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UNC Basketball: Replacing Armando Bacot

If UNC’s big man is out for an extended period, how can the Tar Heels cope without their center in the middle of the action?

North Carolina v Indiana Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images

I hope that this article is outdated by Saturday at 3:15pm when UNC basketball announces that Armando Bacot is healthy and in the starting lineup. I hope he goes for a double-double and helps crush Georgia Tech to get Carolina’s season back on track.

But if Bacot’s injuries — to either his ankle or his shoulder — are severe enough to keep him out of Hubert Davis’ lineup for any appreciable amount of time, how will Carolina cope? It won’t be easy, as there isn’t a facsimile of him in the country, much less on the team.

Hubert Davis will need to replace a ton of rebounding, which probably means putting more, not less, size on the court. Prior to Bacot’s initial ankle tweak in the Alabama marathon game, UNC was out-rebounding opponents at a +5.5 clip (and two of those games against Portland and James Madison were both +16! Bacot operating at the height of his powers).

Since Bacot couldn’t finish the Alabama game, and then played hurt against Indiana, the Heels were -4 against the Crimson Tide, -1 against the Hoosiers, and were -14 at Virginia Tech when Bacot did not step foot on the court.


Armando is that rare big man who can operate alone in the post, but more importantly, can grab all the boards when RJ Davis and Caleb Love are misfiring from deep. With Carolina’s offense sputtering to start the season, getting extra possessions is going to be extremely important, as is limiting second-chance opportunities for opponents.

Pete Nance moving to the five spot is a given. So far this season, he’s averaging 6.3 rpg, which is respectable as Bacot’s buddy, but not as Bacot’s replacement. He’s going to need to step up and clean glass like he’s never cleaned before.

Leaky Black is rebounding well, grabbing 6 rpg so far this season, a career-high pace, but will moving him to the four limit what makes him most effective? Hubert Davis would probably prefer Leaky guarding a wing or even point guard (like he did against Kehei Clark in last season’s ACC Tournament) rather than banging in the post where he can’t use his length and speed to blanket drivers.

Puff Johnson has never been a prolific rebounder, and he appears to be more productive as a sub than a starter. In his first start against Virginia Tech, Puff only lasted 12 minutes and did not post a single rebound or made field goal.

Dontrez Styles has not had many chances to play, despite being the first player off the bench in the season opener against UNCW. Justin McKoy has seen spot minutes at odd times, and only has one rebound on the season against Gardner-Webb.

Will Coach Davis turn towards freshmen Will Shaver and Jalen Washington? Shaver has seen one minute of action so far, and did hit two clutch free throws against Alabama to close the first half of that game. Jalen Washington has not played competitive basketball for over a year, thanks to knee injuries and surgery, but has good size at 6’10” and 225 pounds. Washington is the most intriguing option, but one that has to be managed delicately due to his injury history.

Bottom line: whether you pray, meditate, or just vibe, all Tar Heel fans need to align their positive thoughts and energy together to heal Armando Bacot’s ankle and shoulder.

Without him, Carolina cannot play the type of basketball they were meant to with the roster they currently have assembled. Unless the Heels suddenly start shooting 75%+ from the perimeter, they need Bacot and his rebounding to keep them in games.