Why Is North Texas' Tony Mitchell Not Playing Like an All-American?
This season is a great one for mid-major talent, with names like Isaiah Canaan, Doug McDermott and C.J. McCollum earning preseason All-America buzz.
North Texas' Tony Mitchell got some support for similar honors, but tended to polarize voters. Two months into the season, the skeptics appear to have more ammunition than Mitchell's supporters.
The Mean Green's shaky 5-7 start has stirired questions about Mitchell's ability to carry his team. Thursday's meeting with Lehigh hosted nearly 60 NBA scouts and general managers who were anxious to watch the battle between Mitchell and McCollum.
Even without McCollum, who sat out with a sprained ankle, Lehigh rolled 90-75.
Mitchell played, but he was brought off first-year coach Tony Benford's bench for the second time this season. The cause of the benching was a minor violation of team rules, according to the Denton Record-Chronicle.
For his part, Mitchell was heavily involved in the offense, taking 13 shots and scoring 22 points. This has not always been the case this season, however.
In a shocking early-season loss to Division II Alabama-Huntsville, Mitchell was only able to hoist four shots in 31 minutes before fouling out. The Mean Green's Sun Belt opener, a loss to Louisiana-Lafayette, came and went with Mitchell taking only one shot in his 25 minutes, that being a breakaway dunk off of a turnover. Again, he fouled out.
Defenses are geared to stop Mitchell at any cost, but the best players are able to get their chances, regardless. The 6'8", 235-pound Mitchell has struggled to endure all the low post double-teams, so he's tried drifting out to the perimeter.
After taking 41 three-pointers in 22 games as a freshman, Mitchell has hoisted 37 in his first 12 games this year. He's made only 30 percent of those tries, but on a team shooting a horrid 23 percent in total, he looks like Ray Allen by comparison.
Mitchell tends to lose focus when he's stationed in the post surrounded by defenders, so taking those outside forays and trying to showcase his face-up skills for the scouts may be the only way for him to mentally stay in the game.
Benford's offense may not be helping the cause, either.
Junior guard Alzee Williams told the DRC, “We need to get used to the offense and execute in the halfcourt. It’s different. Last year we were in more of a system. We have more freedom now. We are getting used to it.”
That freedom has allowed the Mean Green backcourt to get shot-happy, rather than mandating that the team's best player stay involved. Guard Jordan Williams is tied with Mitchell for the team lead at 123 field-goal attempts, with Alzee Williams (117) and Chris Jones (111) close behind. The three guards are making a combined 38 percent of those attempts, 21 percent from long range.
While 14.3 points, 8.7 rebounds and 2.6 blocks per game seem like perfectly respectable numbers, the averages are all down from where Mitchell was in his abridged 2011-12 season. They're numbers that could get a Kentucky or North Carolina player drafted in the lottery, but not a guy from North Texas.
Who wins the Sun Belt championship?
If the Mean Green still harbor hopes of challenging a veteran Middle Tennessee team or an injury-plagued Western Kentucky for the Sun Belt championship, Benford will have to ensure that his guards are on the same page as his NBA-bound big man.
All-America honors may be out of reach unless Mitchell and his team make dramatic improvements.
But the worst thing for North Texas fans would be to watch a transcendent talent pass through Denton without so much as an NCAA tournament bid. With every loss, however, that fear edges closer to reality.
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