Last season, the North Carolina men’s basketball team ran its most big-man-heavy offense in recent memory.
The average height of the team was 6-foot-7, with six players on the roster measuring in at over 6-foot-10. That group featured Armando Bacot, Day’Ron Sharpe, Garrison Brooks and Walker Kessler, all of whom combined for 36.3 points per game.
That's roughly half of the team’s total offense.
With a lack of shooters and so many players packed down low, the team struggled from behind the arc. North Carolina was tenth in the ACC in attempted 3-pointers last season with 17.6 attempts per game. On the opposite end of the court, the Tar Heels tended to give up big shots. Competing teams attempted 22.9 3-pointers per game against UNC, second-highest in the ACC.
This season, a revamped front court may cause the pendulum to swing in the opposite direction. Bacot, entering his junior season, is the lone returner among the big men. Joining him are a pair of transfers — comprised of graduate student Brady Manek and sophomore Dawson Garcia — that is poised to add outside shooting depth to the roster.
Newly-promoted head coach Hubert Davis undoubtedly breathed a sigh of relief after Bacot announced he was returning to school, after testing the NBA waters this summer.
He will be heavily relied on this season as both a scorer and a defensive anchor. He led the team in scoring last season with 12.3 points per game, and will likely do so again in a less crowded frontcourt. Bacot is UNC’s biggest threat down low, thanks to his powerful frame and solid touch that allows him to score around the rim with ease. Although he has yet to pose a threat from the perimeter, Bacot should benefit from better floor spacing and less traffic in the paint this season.
The Tar Heels will have some rebounding numbers to make up for after the departures of Sharpe and Brooks. A good place to start is with Bacot — an elite board-getter whose offensive rebounding ability has the potential to swing the momentum in games. His 92 offensive boards in 29 games last season were good for second in the ACC, just behind his teammate Sharpe.
Garcia led Marquette to an upset win against UNC last season, putting up 24 points on just 13 shots and hauling in 11 rebounds. His performance showed everything that UNC’s bigs lacked — range from deep, handling ability and free throw shooting. Now, Garcia will have the opportunity to bring those skills to the same team he dismantled last year.
A former McDonald’s All-American, Garcia was ranked as the nation’s fourth best power forward coming out of high school. He made an instant impact in his first and only year at Marquette, averaging 13 points and 6.6 rebounds on his way to being named to the Big East All-Freshman team.
Garcia has a well-rounded set of skills that could make him a crucial offensive piece. He is unafraid to take long jumpers, but can also weave and cut to the basket. He shot 78.3 percent from the free throw line, which would have been among the best on the team last season.
Manek’s transfer to UNC was a huge get for a program looking to bolster its shooting. In four years at Oklahoma, he averaged 37.4 percent from three on 5.1 attempts per game. As a junior, Manek was named to the Third Team All-Big Twelve after averaging 14.4 points, 6.2 rebounds and 1.2 blocks per game.
The 6-foot-9 forward does not play like a typical North Carolina big man. Manek is apt to stay out on the three point line like a wing, where he can unleash a barrage of catch and shoot threes. He can create a tough mismatch for a defender not accustomed to guarding the three point line, but he’s not as good at creating his own shot like Garcia.
The incoming duo of Manek and Garcia have the potential to instantly transform UNC’s offense with their shooting prowess. Last season’s rotation of bigs made five three-pointers on 15 attempts, compared to Manek and Garcia who made a combined 74 threes on 201 attempts for their respective teams.
If Davis leans into the strengths of his team’s new bigs, UNC fans could be treated to an offense that is much more dynamic and modern than teams of the past.
To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.