The 2021-22 North Carolina basketball team made a surprising run to the national championship game as a No. 8 seed and had a 16-point first-half lead in it against Kansas only to lose by three. All the "way-too-early" Top 25 projections for next season had the Heels in the Top 10 with the caveat that UNC could jump into the Top 3 if All-American big man Armando Bacot returned to Chapel Hill. He announced today that he will do so, which has shifted the Heels from +1800 to win the 2023 NCAA Tournament to +1100 second favorites at Caesars Sportsbook.
Bacot averaged 16.3 points and 13.1 rebounds last season (shattering the school record for total rebounds) and set an ACC record with a whopping 31 double-doubles, tying David Robinson for the most in a single season in NCAA history. Bacot was the first player to produce six double-doubles in an NCAA tournament. He injured his ankle in the Final Four win over Duke and was able to gut it out in the title game vs. Kansas but then injured that ankle again late with the game still very much up for grabs (KU led by one point).
Perhaps UNC wins if that doesn't happen. Bacot finished with 15 points and 15 rebounds in 38 minutes but was only 3-for-13 shooting and admitted the ankle hampered him, especially trying to battle KU big man David McCormack.
"I really couldn't, the whole game, get the push on anything on my post-ups, defensively, anything," Bacot said. "It was just hard for me to really just stand my ground."
As good as Bacot was last season, he wasn't considered a top NBA prospect – not listed in the CBS Sports Big Board Top 60 for the 2022 draft. He perhaps can earn more from his name, image and likeness back at UNC than in the G-League or overseas. Bacot will surely be the ACC Preseason Player of the Year.
Bacot said in a video released Wednesday: "On the court we got so close this year. I know there are no guarantees, but I want the opportunity to play in those big games, to keep Carolina on that national stage, and to have the chance to do what Coach (Hubert) Davis has talked about since his first day on the job -- put another banner in the Smith Center. My Carolina story isn't finished just yet. Next season starts right now."
Coach Hubert Davis is still awaiting whether Caleb Love, RJ Davis and Leaky Black will return, but that Bacot will do so only increases their chances of doing so. According to a report from UNC basketball insider Candace Cooper on the Locked On Tar Heels podcast, there is an increasingly likely chance they will come back. If so, UNC could be preseason No. 1.
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