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UNC Basketball 2021-22 Team MVP: Armando Bacot

Anyone on the Iron Five had a case, but the man in the middle was the engine.

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NCAA Basketball: Final Four-Semifinals-North Carolina vs Duke Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

From the moment Bacot committed to UNC back in 2018, he’s been a full-throated fan and model Tar Heel, even as his first two seasons have arguably not gone the way he thought they would. He tried to work with Garrison Brooks in his first year as the pair tried to work in the dual big roles in the Roy Williams system, but injuries ultimately sunk that season that was headed to an early finish before COVID ended everyone else’s. Last year saw him as one of four bigs trying to get time, and again as the role seemed to consistently morph, there was struggling as the Heels limped to a first round exit in Roy Williams’ final year.

The departures of Day’Ron Sharpe, Walker Kessler, and Garrison Brooks, as well as a new head coach that looked to move Carolina away from two bigs planting themselves in the middle of the floor created an opportunity for Bacot to redefine his career. No longer was he sliding around between the four and the five; he was the clear center while new coach Hubert Davis sought players to play the four who would slide out on the wing and stretch defenses.

It was a revelation for the junior.

Unconcerned with having to figure out his position, Bacot nearly doubled his minutes played by going from 660 last season to 1235 this year, and was a reliable force in the middle of the floor. With the four playing further from the basket, all of the rebounds went to Bacot and with the room to move to the basket, the junior would end the season with 31 double-doubles in a row, tying some guy named David Robinson for the most in a single season. He averaged…AVERAGED…13.1 rebounds a game to go along with his 16.3 points. When had the advantage, he pressed it, leading to his season-high of 22 against St. Peter’s to send Carolina to the Final Four.

The numbers bely the true worth of Bacot, however. He was elected a team captain at the start of the year and he showed all season he was worthy of the title, and as the season wore on and it was clear that he was going to have to shoulder a huge load, to the tune of 31.7 minutes a game, he just kept putting Carolina on his back. In case anyone had any doubt about his reliability, he put up 43 minutes in the overtime win against Syracuse before battling the Devils in Durham, and then had the signature dunk with under a minute left that has now become an iconic t-shirt.

Ahh, yes, in the first year of NIL Bacot also showed future Tar Heels not only how to take advantage of monetizing your name, but also how to be a better person. One of his NIL deals was with Jimmy’s Seafood, and Bacot not only donated the money he made from shirts in that deal to MeFine, it spurred Jimmy’s to match donations to the organization as well. It was an incredibly selfless act, and no telling how many lives he helped by doing that.

If you have any other questions about the type of season and rarified air that Bacot was in, just check out this tweet:

His reliability and presence in the middle affected every game he was in, and his early foul trouble against Duke helped precipitate the blowout in Chapel Hill. In the other two wins against the Devils, he played almost the whole time, only sitting out a few minutes due to the ankle injury in the Final Four and fouling out with under a minute.

The Final Four alone really makes him worthy of this award, providing us all with memorable images in quotes. From his “Eff it” answer to whether or not his ankle was OK against Duke, to the “Thug it out” answer he gave when asked if he was in pain, to the sight of him hopping down the floor on one leg when officials would not stop play when he hurt that ankle again. Bacot literally gave it all he could.

If this is the last season Bacot plays for the Tar Heels you couldn’t ask for any better. He was jilted out of ACC Player of the Year, being told multiple times by Coach K that Bacot had his vote for the award, and thus by UNC’s rules doesn’t qualify to have his number honored. Time will tell if that will change, but even if his number is never in the rafters, he was the unquestioned leader of this team and embodied the heart of the squad that was just a couple of shots from taking it all. Thus the choice of MVP is an easy one, so congrats Armando Bacot!