UNC Basketball: Armando Bacot’s injury to force Roy Williams’ hand with lineup

With no real timeline for Armando Bacot’s return to the lineup, it could be a blessing in disguise when talking about the starting lineup for UNC basketball.

The North Carolina Tar Heels are off to a 2-0 start in the 2019-20 season with wins over Notre Dame and UNCW, but the bodies keep going down with injury, leaving Roy Williams with almost as many players injured as he has scholarship players available.

During Friday’s game against UNC-Wilmington, the Tar Heels lost freshman big man Armando Bacot to what looked like a head injury. When he didn’t return to the game, Roy Williams had this to say afterwards about the injury and what to expect moving forward.

“They’re worried about Armando (Bacot) with a concussion,” Williams said during his postgame press conference. “Needless to say we’d like him to play more than two minutes and 41 seconds. We’re pretty thin as it is anyway. So, that bothered us.”

While the Tar Heels have a week off before their next game, giving Bacot time to recover, it brings up an interesting point about Carolina’s starting lineup.

Because of how thin the Tar Heels are up in the frontcourt with Sterling Manley sidelined, with no clear timeline to return, and no other options outside of Brandon Huffman and Walker Miller, Bacot’s presence in the rotation is extremely important.

With that, Williams could have to make an adjustment to his starting lineup, but could end up being a boost to the Tar Heels in the long run.

There is another member of the Carolina rotation that should be inserted into the starting lineup for Bacot and that is the William and Mary grad transfer Justin Pierce. At 6-foot-7, Pierce is that perfect small ball hybrid forward, and it showed on Friday when he played extended minutes.

After Bacot went down just a few minutes into the game, Pierce caught fire and played perfectly alongside Garrison Brooks in the frontcourt. With his ability to shoot the three, going 4-of-7 from deep, Pierce brought an entirely new look to the offense.

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With Carolina’s lack of three-point shooting outside of Cole Anthony through two games, playing a two-big lineup makes it so difficult for Anthony and others to utilize the paint. With Pierce in the lineup, his ability to stretch the floor will open up driving lanes for the guards, but also open up the midrange area for Leaky Black, something that could be a huge boost to his 33.3 percent shooting through two games.

Even with Pierce in the lineup, it doesn’t impact the Heels on the boards. Averaging 9.5 rebounds a game this season, including his 12-rebound outing on Friday, Pierce is as good, if not a better rebounder than a lot of other traditional ‘power forwards’ in college basketball.

Coming full circle, not only does this help the Carolina offense, but it theoretically gives the Tar Heels more depth.

With Bacot bound to make freshman mistakes, including being more foul prone, ‘protecting’ him and playing him roughly five to seven minutes less per game, the minutes he would take up as a starter, could keep him out of foul trouble and continue to allow the Tar Heels the ability to roll with a normal two-big rotation off of the bench with him and Huffman, that is a staple to the overall Carolina rotation.

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Roy Williams has never liked to move to a small-ball lineup, and at times that has hurt the Heels. With Bacot’s injury, however, it should open up his eyes and could force him to make the adjustment that will benefit Carolina now, and for the entire season.