The Daily Tar Heel
Printing news. Raising hell. Since 1893.
Wednesday, Nov. 29, 2023 Newsletters Latest print issue

We keep you informed.

Help us keep going. Donate Today.
The Daily Tar Heel

'Don’t let him get the ball': ACC opponents discuss how they defend Armando Bacot

Then UNC senior forward/center Armando Bacot (5) shoots the ball during the men's basketball game against Duke at the Dean E. Smith Center on Saturday, March 4, 2023.

“This is the last time y’all are gonna see me.”

Those were the first words out of UNC fifth-year center Armando Bacot’s mouth as he spoke to the media at the 2023 ACC Tipoff main room.

If you listened closely, you could probably hear the collective sigh of his conference opponents. Or, in the case of UVA head coach Tony Bennett, it was a sarcastic, “Who’s that? I’ve never coached against him.”

In Hubert Davis’ mind, Bacot’s performance is directly correlated to UNC's success. That’s why the head coach said on the “College Hoops Today” podcast that the big man needs to be dominant. Not simply good or occasionally great — he wants Bacot to dominate each game and be the best rebounder in the country. And if you’re one of North Carolina’s opponents, the key to shutting down the Tar Heels — despite seven new faces — remains the same: stop Bacot.

That's easier said than done. Just ask any ACC big man and his coach.

“I don’t know what it is about that guy,” N.C. State’s DJ Burns said. “Boxing him out is a fun task. I don’t know how he does it, but he’s in a great position every time, so you have to hit him really hard. That’s probably the thing that I would say was a big emphasis for myself — making sure he stays off the boards.”

For ACC preseason player of the year Kyle Filipowski, combatting Bacot’s size was a challenge last year. Per his head coach, Duke’s Jon Scheyer, you “better make sure you put a body on him and block him out” because “he’s one of the best rebounders in college basketball.”

Miami forward Norchad Omier took it a step further: “Don’t let him get the ball.” And if he does? “Take a charge.”

But, for Miami head coach Jim Larrañaga, it goes beyond just Bacot. He said the post player’s supporting cast is the key to his success.

“When the other team can just sic their whole defense on a big guy, it makes life miserable,” Larrañaga said, later adding, “He catches the ball eight feet from the basket with a crowd around him. When you have good players around you, you can pass it out to them. When they make shots, then all of a sudden, there’s not as large a crowd around you the next time.”

That was Bacot’s experience against Pitt last year, the ACC team he said defended him the best — sending various double teams and providing different looks so the center “couldn’t find a rhythm.” 

“I hate playing against coach [Jeff] Capel,” Bacot said. "He always finds ways to make it tough on me. I thought last year, after the way they guarded me, teams copycatted that because I struggled with it a lot. They used that against me. But I think this year I won’t have any problems with any defenses."

With a new gaggle of characters surrounding him, it’s safe to say Bacot’s confidence is at an all-time high. At the 2023 ACC Tipoff, he casually threw out the accolades he was chasing — “ACC Player of the Year, National Player of the Year, First-Team All-American, something, I gotta find a way to get my jersey retired” — and later detailed his post-basketball career aspirations to start a private equity fund.

But before he begins his professional ventures, he’s got another season left. His final ride. His final chance to terrorize conference foes and, later down the line, take a stab at that elusive national championship.


“You don’t want to stay another year?” Davis turned to ask Bacot at the 2023 ACC Tipoff with a laugh – to be clear, this is Bacot’s last year of eligibility – before launching into a story about his first interaction with his star center. At the time, Bacot was a towering 15-year-old whom the coach scouted on a recruiting trip gone wrong. Davis was supposed to be heading to New York, but the recruit there ended up not playing, so Davis traveled down to Richmond, Va., where he met Bacot.

The two are now inextricably linked, and what started as mere happenstance has fostered a relationship bonded by both humor and hard expectations. 

As Davis later answered a question about Bacot in a breakout interview session, he was interrupted. Across the room, laughter broke out. The head coach took a glance at Bacot — the last time he’ll share the spotlight with him at one of these preseason media events — and returned to the question at hand.

“He’s probably making people laugh [right now],” Davis said of his big man. “Well, he can hold a crowd. I want him to hold a crowd on the floor. I want this to be his best year.”


@dthsports |

To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.

Shelby Swanson

Shelby Swanson is the 2023-24 sports editor at The Daily Tar Heel. She has previously served as an assistant sports editor and senior writer. Shelby is a junior pursuing a double major in media and journalism and Hispanic literatures and cultures.