The big man is back at North Carolina.
After two seasons without a true, back-to-the-basket offensive star, freshman Armando Bacot has come on strong over the past two games and looks poised for a breakout this week as the Tar Heels play three games in three days at the Battle 4 Atlantis.
Bacot was dominant in last week’s victory over Elon, hitting 9 of 14 field goal attempts on his way to 22 points and 14 rebounds in 26 minutes — building on a 12-point, 11-rebound outing vs. Gardner-Webb on Nov. 15.
"I'm doing my go-to moves I work on every day and I feel like it helped,” Bacot said. “I've just been trying to put an emphasis on everything Coach says, and it's been working."
His emergence is especially well-timed as Carolina’s offense has struggled to find consistency over its first four games, becoming too reliant on freshman phenom Cole Anthony, who has taken 35 percent of the Tar Heels shots when he’s on the floor.
With three high-major opponents coming up in the Bahamas, Anthony won’t be able to carry Carolina to three straight wins.
“I've just been trying to take a little bit of the pressure off of Cole because he's been having a lot of stuff on his shoulders,” Bacot said. “I just know that we've all got to step up even more so his role isn't so heavy."
Bacot, who is still making his share of freshman mistakes, has put himself in position to be Carolina’s second scorer over the past two games thanks to his ability to get position and catch the ball deep, using excellent footwork and a soft touch to score around the basket.
“I’m proud of him,” forward Garrison Brooks said. “I’m glad he’s being more aggressive in the paint.”
According to Hoop-Math.com, Bacot leads the Tar Heels with 61 percent of his field goal attempts at the rim, where he’s making 63 percent of his attempts. Overall, his effective field goal percentage of 58.1 is best on the roster.
After two straight double-doubles, Bacot’s teammates shrugged it off.
It’s nothing they weren’t expecting from the 6-10, 230-pound forward.
“That’s what Armando does; he’s been doing it since high school,” Anthony said. “We shouldn’t be surprised. He’s just getting into a rhythm now and he’s going to just keep getting better. He has a chance to be pretty much that other scorer on this team.”
The only real shock has been just how quickly Bacot has become an effective part of Carolina’s transition offense.
In the second half of the Elon game, he helped the Tar Heels pick up the fast-break offense that has been sporadic this season, running the floor for a few easy baskets. Defensively, Bacot tracked down an Elon guard on the break for a block that didn’t seem possible before some serious work in the weight room.
Rim-runs and chase-down blocks weren’t exactly the first thought a few years ago when Bacot was around 245 pounds with little visible muscle.
That changed dramatically from the time Roy Williams first saw him during his sophomore season.
“Great change in his body,” he said. “He went to IMG last year and did a great job in the weight room, worked extremely hard, body changed over dramatically … he is going to get better. He needs to get better. He needs to get where he makes more shots, makes more free throws and things like that. His body is much different than it was three years ago and it's all of his credit — it's all sweat."
That work hasn’t slowed down since he arrived in Chapel Hill, and that’s one big reason why Bacot’s past two performances are just the beginning.
“He works really hard,” Brooks said. “He was taking care of himself this week and he's made a conscious effort to really get the ball in and score the ball… Armando has been working since day one. Especially with Jonas [Sahratian]. He's always trying to work with Coach Williams, work with Coach [Hubert] Davis, and asking Sean [May] what he can do better. I think that's a really good thing about Armando — he's always trying to learn and work on his game."