The Tar Heels had their share of ups and downs last season. Although they were able to come into form at the perfect time, for the majority of the regular season, it was very much a Jekyll and Hyde dynamic. Despite the overall inconsistency of the team, there was one dude whose play never wavered. I’m talking about the first team All-ACC performer (should’ve been ACC POTY) who became the first player to ever record six double-doubles in the NCAA tournament en route to tying the NCAA single season record with 31: Armando Bacot.
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Mando became a fan favorite in Chapel Hill well before he even arrived on campus. From the second he committed, Bacot fully embraced the Carolina culture. While his decision in itself was massive, he also received credit for helping the Tar Heels secure Cole Anthony. Since then, Bacot has become known for tweeting at recruits/transfers (even football players) to sway them to UNC. His involvement in recruiting is perhaps unlike anything we’ve seen from a player, and yet, his play on the court is even more remarkable.
Despite being a starter and impact performer from day one, Bacot’s game has developed considerably since he showed up. During his freshman season, the team could never quite find its groove, but Bacot still recorded 9.6 points and 8.3 rebounds per contest while shooting 46.9% from the field. He and Anthony were thrown into the fire as freshmen on a team with basically zero proven scorers. The following year, those numbers (mostly) improved to 12.3 points, 7.8 rebounds, and 62.8% shooting. With an influx of talented bigs in the lineup, his rebounding suffered a bit, but Bacot distinguished himself as a truly dangerous back-to-the-basket scorer. That, of course, brings us to his most recent junior season wherein Bacot established himself as one of the best players in the country, notching 16.3 points and 13.1 rebounds on 56.9% shooting.
Given the makeup of the roster, it’s hard to imagine Bacot topping those numbers as a senior. Adding the 6-11 Pete Nance will likely diminish his rebounding obligations and the offensive firepower across the board will make it difficult to maintain that scoring. With that said, I doubt Bacot is particularly concerned about that. Regardless of the stats, Bacot has enhanced his play every single season, and I expect that trend will continue.
The question then becomes: in what ways can he improve? Last year’s edition of Bacot featured one of the most well-rounded big men we’ve ever seen at Carolina, which is saying something. Offensively, he was a nightmare for opposing teams. His combination of size, footwork, and touch around the basket was simply too much for your average college player to handle. Thus, most opponents brought a double team whenever Bacot touched the ball, but oftentimes even that couldn’t stop him (see St. Peters). Defensively, Bacot wasn’t necessarily a true rim protector, but he’s certainly increased his nose for blocking shots. His development physically allowed him to consistently hold his own with some of the best centers in the country.
If you told UNC fans that it would be more of the same from Bacot as a senior, I don’t think you’d receive a single complaint. For the most part, I believe that will be the case. However, I am curious to see if he’ll receive the proverbial green light from Hubert Davis to start hoisting from the perimeter. Coach Davis made it apparent when he took the job that he’d like for everyone on his team to be able to shoot, including Bacot. His eight three-point attempts as a junior were easily the most he had taken in his career, but it obviously wasn’t a staple. Although he’ll be utilized primarily in the paint, it would add another element to both the Carolina offense and Bacot’s game if he can be a true threat from deep.
Regardless, Bacot is set to be a force, yet again, in the ACC. There’s a reason his name is being mentioned for player of the year, both in the conference and nationally. Last season, teams focused most, if not all of their attention on stopping Bacot. Given the identity the team discovered down the home stretch, that’ll be a dangerous game to play with the 2022-23 Tar Heels. The double teams will still be there, but with another full season of dominance, Armando Bacot has an opportunity to go down as one of the best (and most beloved) players to ever don the Carolina blue.