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Wednesday December 7th

Preview: UNC's big men looking to remain productive heading into new season

UNC junior forward Armando Bacot (5) attempts to power by a defender during the NCAA championship game against Kansas in New Orleans on Monday, April 4, 2022. UNC lost  72-69.
Buy Photos UNC junior forward Armando Bacot (5) attempts to power by a defender during the NCAA championship game against Kansas in New Orleans on Monday, April 4, 2022. UNC lost 72-69.

During North Carolina's run to the championship game last year, the team's frontcourt played a large role in the Tar Heels' success.

Graduate transfer Brady Manek shot 40 percent from three throughout the season, while Armando Bacot set the record for the most double-doubles in an NCAA Tournament. Entering the new season, Bacot will be joined by two new faces in the frontcourt who hope to match the proficiency of last year’s big men. 

Here's a look at how the unit can remain productive this year:

Armando Bacot

With a historic NCAA Tournament run behind him, Bacot easily could have declared for the NBA Draft and reached the sport’s summit. Instead, he believed there was unfinished business in Chapel Hill and decided to stay for one final season.

The undisputed leader of the Tar Heels was named the preseason ACC Player of the Year, selected to the preseason All-ACC First-Team and listed on the preseason Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Award Watch List. 

He has led the Tar Heels in scoring and rebounding over the last two seasons. His inside presence was the catalyst for their success last year, and the main reason for their plus-eight rebounding differential in the NCAA tournament.

Bacot has played with guards junior Caleb Love and RJ Davis for two years and wing Leaky Black for three, and this familiarity should only improve his production. Expect more of the same from the program’s all-time single-season rebounding leader as he enters his final year in Chapel Hill.

Pete Nance

Manek left a massive gap in the starting lineup after graduating after the season's end. Head coach Hubert Davis needed to find someone in the transfer portal that could fill his role, and Pete Nance from Northwestern did just that.

Nance has improved in almost every statistical measure over his four years in Evanston, setting a career-high in points per game, blocks per game, total rebounds and assists per game last season. He elevated his shooting ability to a new stratosphere, as his 45.2 three-point percentage was almost nine points better than his junior season. 

That large a gap in performance between seasons poses the question of whether that success can be replicated, but even a slight dip in performance would suffice in spreading the floor and opening up space for Bacot down low.

Nance should also make an impact through his playmaking ability. He excels at the top of the key, creating space for the guards through various pick plays. He should form a potent connection with Love and Davis and thrive on pick-and-pops and pick-and-rolls all season.

Jalen Washington

When Washington committed to UNC back in July of 2021 as a five-star and top-25 national recruit, the future seemed bright for the Gary, Ind. native. By the end of the summer, though, he was in surgery for a torn ACL and has not played competitive basketball since.

While he may have missed his senior season in high school, Davis has not lost any confidence in him, calling Washington “the best shooting big coming out of high school that I’ve ever seen.”  

In his junior year of high school, Washington averaged 12.5 points and seven rebounds and was named first-team all-state in Indiana. His ability to run the floor and shoot from anywhere should provide an important spark off the bench for the Tar Heels.

While his talent on the court cannot be questioned, his health remains an issue.

Davis said he should be cleared for all basketball activity by the end of September, but Washington has only seen limited 5-on-5 action during practice. Although he did not play in UNC's season-opening win against UNC Wilmington on Nov. 7, his return will be a significant addition to the bench unit.  

@dthsports | sports@dailytarheel.com

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