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UNC Basketball: Will 2023-24 be an All-American season for Armando Bacot?

How can we evaluate and prepare for Armando Bacot's last season in Chapel Hill? Let’s find out.

Live Action with Carolina Basketball Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

Armando Bacot has already solidified himself amongst the elite in Carolina basketball history. The three-time All-ACC big man has his hands full of accolades and records accumulated through four elite years in Chapel Hill. Even after constructing a highly decorated career, Armando has continued to clarify one message this offseason: there is more to be done. The fifth-year senior out of Richmond, VA, has his sights set on larger goals in his final chapter in Carolina Blue.

CBS Sports just listed Armando Bacot as a part of their Preseason All-American First Team. Along with holding up a National Championship Trophy in Phoenix, I presume this award would be a desirable feat for Bacot to accomplish before he walks away from college hoops.

Let’s preview what Armando may have in store for his final go with the Tar Heels and if accomplishments such as the one CBS Sports is projecting are attainable with a new-look Carolina squad.

The Known:

Armando Bacot is going to rebound the basketball. UNC’s all-time leading rebounder has had no trouble crashing the boards repeatedly, and there is no reason to think his final year will consist of anything else. He is joined down low by portal additions Jae’Lyn Withers (6’9”), James Okonkwo (6’8”), and Harrison Ingram (6’7”), along with freshman Zayden High (6’9”). The added depth to the F/C position may increase a more equal distribution of rebound statistics. Still, some of these incoming players will look to also stretch the floor and play the perimeter, leaving the paint that much more open for Armando to receive and produce.

Because the wings now have more size and depth than we have seen in Chapel Hill in the last few years, we again expect Armando to still own the low post and be extremely hard to cover. One of the only things that has caused his game to look clunky in his career has been spacing, but many around Carolina Basketball hope these roster changes will clear out traffic on the block and elbow and allow Bacot to do what he does best: go to work. I am super excited to see the steps the post game can take with less frequent double teams and, hopefully, more consistent outside shooting. One can only hope! Also, the vision of Elliot Cadeau will open up opportunities for Bacot that may have yet to be there. The freshman guard seems to be as broadcasted, and that is an exciting addition for the whole Carolina crew, including big men like Armando Bacot.

We know #5 will score the basketball, get to the line, and rebound. Period. It’s just what he does. And does very well, I might add. There is definite reason to believe the improved supporting cast around him will elevate what he does best. The added development of Jalen Washington has the potential to be another compliment to Bacot’s game, as many of North Carolina’s most successful teams have gone through two power big men. We also know that Armando Bacot is motivated from last year’s dud. He has spoken time and time again about the new perspective the unit brings into this season with the letdown of the previous year in the back of their minds.

We expect Armando Bacot to continue to do Armando Bacot things. We also have confidence that taking another step in his overall game and efficiency is definitely within reach. That’s scary to think about.

The Unknown:

It may sound ridiculous that there are facets of Bacot’s game we have yet to figure out. His play style is reasonably traditional and straightforward enough that many would assume that four years would be enough to get a grasp. Well, the North Carolina roster, as previously discussed, has experienced significant turnover in the past six months, entering some uncharted territory for Bacot and his player identity. Here are a few characteristics of his repertoire that may be crucial for his upcoming success.

Social media has shown us multiple off-season clips of Bacot pulling up from the mid-range and the three-point line. Is he a legit threat from out there? Well, in the past, you may have laughed at that inquiry. Let’s be clear: I can assure you he will not lead the team in 3PT attempts. With that being said, if he can utilize the space that many defenders give him around that mid-range area with a consistent jumper... Watch out.

Another eye-opening part of this UNC offseason has been the reintroduction of the fast-paced transition offense. Finally! I will really believe it when I see it, but practice videos and Live Action highlights suggest that Elliot Cadeau and RJ Davis have prioritized getting the ball down the court after a bucket or a rebound. What was once Carolina’s bread and butter has seemed to fade over the past few years, partially due to personnel and coaching changes. If the lightning-quick fast break returns to being a large piece of the North Carolina attack, it makes you wonder how that will affect guys like Bacot. So much of his success has come with physicality and post moves in half-court offense. Can he adjust to the quick in-game turnarounds? Can he produce as highly with fewer offensive sets per game? That is a question we will just have to wait and find out, but it is something to watch for as the Tar Heels get to action here shortly.

Lastly, we know Armando Bacot has had his fair share of injuries, especially regarding his ankle, throughout his 132 career games for North Carolina. Going on his fifth year of college basketball, his physical health is crucial to any possibility of an All-American caliber season or a deep run in March. The added depth to this roster should take some weight off Bacot’s shoulders regarding minutes. That may be true on paper, but he’s just a guy that sometimes you just cannot keep out of the game. His elite presence on the court cannot be described or recreated, and the Tar Heels will need him healthy to reach their potential this year.

The Reality:

So can he do it? I argue yes. He is clearly an All-American talent with the pieces to put it all together. The difference this year is what will go on around him, and that will be the key to his statistical success along with the team’s ability to exceed expectations.

Armando Bacot and his ride at North Carolina is one of the more unique stories in all of sports. I have learned to not doubt anything when it comes to Mando and the Tar Heels. As Bacot once said, “I would die for this school,” and I believe it. His return for a fifth year can be analyzed every which way when it comes to basketball, but I want to conclude this preview with the more important meaning of Armando Bacot and North Carolina. Because it is much more than what takes place on the hardwood.

As I touched on, Bacot has been nothing short of top-notch in his storied career up to this point. To name a few examples, how about the National Championship run, the double-double and rebound records, the dunk against Duke in Cameron, more than 1,800 points, and four incredible years filled with memories to last a lifetime. But somehow, it runs deeper than that for #5.

His passion and dedication for UNC basketball cannot go unnoticed. If you keep up with him on social media at all, you’d know he is the definition of all-in. Through extremely rough patches and times of doubt, he has seemed to be the only player you can always rely on to go out and give 110% on any given night.

He has been one of UNC’s top (if not the best) recruiters through his time in Chapel Hill. Seriously. If there is a guy he wants alongside him in the Dean Dome, he has shown no hesitancy to go out and publicly make his case. In an era where all other factors seem to sway recruits in different ways, it has been exciting to see Bacot’s raw dedication to the makeup of some of these Carolina teams.

That’s not it, though. Bacot loves the fans more than some people know. He wears losses on his chest and praises others in times of success. He has given everything to North Carolina, and that I can say with confidence.

I could go on and on about who Armando Bacot is off the court and what he has done for this program, but I will close with the request for all of us to appreciate every night he suits up this season. He is the textbook definition of Carolina basketball. One day, when his jersey is in the rafters, just remember his impact and the culture he left behind. Bacot has been a pleasure to cover, follow, and watch. I am so excited to see what he has in store for this upcoming year, but regardless of what the record or stat sheet says, this time next year, you cannot and will not be able to recreate a guy like Bacot. He is everything fans could ever ask for and more.

How about we end his career in Phoenix? Anyone object? Only time will answer that hope, but there is a lot to be excited about for this North Carolina basketball team and what Bacot has the potential to do in his last dance in Carolina blue.