None of the Iron Five had more to prove in the postseason than Armando Bacot. The Carolina center came into the postseason fresh off the most disrespectful ACC Player of the Year vote in recent memory, where Wake Forest’s Alondes Williams somehow garnered ten more votes than Bacot, who averaged a double-double (17.4 ppg & 14.1 rpg) during ACC play. Going berserk in the NCAA Tournament while Alondes Williams toiled for three games in the NIT would be a good start on getting ACC voters to see the error of their ways, right?
Bacot performed two distinct and distinguished feats. First, he performed at an elite level, racking up double-doubles at an alarming rate (Bacot tied David Robinson for the most double-doubles (31!) in a single season, and became the first player in NCAA Tournament history to record double-doubles in all six games).
Second, he displayed a toughness that not only dispelled the notion and unfair reputation that UNC was not “tough” by playing 38 minutes in the national championship game with a badly sprained ankle, going for 15 points and 15 boards in that game, and finally, having the misfortune of playing out our worst nightmare. Bacot re-aggravated his ankle injury when the arena floor buckled under his feet. After turning the ball over, Bacot picked himself up and literally hopped on his one good foot in a futile attempt to help his team in any way he could, even just to foul.
That gut wrenching injury will leave Tar Heel fans wondering “what if?” for the rest of their lives. Bacot had been on a tear, improving his performances at every stage of the season.
· Regular season averages: 16.3 ppg, 13.1 rpg
· ACC season averages: 17.4 ppg, 14.1 rpg
· NCAA Tournament averages: 16.5 ppg, 15.5 rpg
Bacot had largely canceled out the performance of Kansas big David McCormack, who terrorized Villanova to the tune of 25 points and 9 rebounds. For Bacot to perform as well as he did on one wheel has got to make you believe that he could have made up three points if he was healthy.
The championship game against Kansas will forever remind me of the classic Michael Bay film “Pearl Harbor.” When Rafe McCawley goes out on his last intercept flight during the Battle of Britain, his aircraft mechanic warns him that he was unable to fix a faulty oil hose. Rafe tells him to just crank the engine so he can fly and fight. Armando Bacot had that sort of moment at the end of the Duke game in the semi-final.
Like Rafe shooting down a bomber and two fighters over the English Channel, Armando Bacot was able to see off Duke, inspiring his teammates to victory after he fouled out. He performed as well as he could hope against Kansas, showing tremendous heart and physical ability despite a noticeable limp that had to be killing him. Rafe’s Spitfire, under tremendous stress while evading an ME-109, popped an oil leak that caught on fire inside his cockpit, eventually leading to his crash. I couldn’t help but compare Bacot’s ankle betraying him at the last moment to Rafe’s Spitfire, taxed beyond its limits, trying to save England/Carolina. Kansas got their filthy mitts on the championship trophy, just like that snake Danny did on Rafe’s girlfriend Evelyn. A heartbreaking end in every regard.
Armando has a tough decision to make in the coming weeks. He demonstrated that he has an elite skill (rebounding) much in the same way that Day’Ron Sharpe did last year. He could declare for the NBA Draft, hopefully get picked up by a team, and begin his professional career. He could also run it back next year, with a nucleus that’s largely believed to be returning (Caleb Love and Leaky Black are not yet decided, only Brady Manek is certainly gone). If he does, he has every chance of becoming a Carolina legend on par with Tyler Hansbrough. He’d be a preseason All-America and ACC Player of the Year candidate. And he’ll be making some NIL money while doing it.
Bacot announced today that he would be returning to Chapel Hill for his senior season, giving us another chance to see him continue to stake his claim as the best in the ACC. Let’s run it back!
Check out the rest of Tar Heel Blog’s Salute to the Iron Five: