Davion Mitchell's Precision Is Unlocking the Best Version of Baylor Basketball

David KenyonFeatured ColumnistApril 4, 2021

Baylor guard Davion Mitchell (45) celebrates during the first half of a men's Final Four NCAA college basketball tournament semifinal game against Houston, Saturday, April 3, 2021, at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)
Darron Cummings/Associated Press

INDIANAPOLIS For most of the 2020-21 season, Davion Mitchell has been considered the 1B to Jared Butler's 1A. While both Baylor Bears are well-respected players nationally, Butler has typically received the most recognition.

That narrative, however, has steadily changed in the 2021 men's NCAA tournament.

And it's nowhere close to bad news for the Baylor Bears.

Thanks to a 78-59 demolition of the Houston Cougars, Baylor is headed to the national championship. The Bears will play the Gonzaga Bulldogs or UCLA Bruins, who meet in the second national semifinal at Lucas Oil Stadium.

Butler and Mitchell both excelled in Saturday's win. Butler poured in all 17 of his points in Baylor's terrific first half, while Mitchell totaled 12 points and 11 assists. The objective here isn't to determine whether Mitchell has overtaken Butler or discuss a question better suited for an unanswerable debate.

Instead, this is deserved praise for Mitchell, an incredible all-around player who has ensured Baylor looks every bit the championship contender we've come to expect in 2020-21.

More than anything, Mitchell has embraced his ability to fly past defenders on the dribble in the NCAA tournament. Through five games, he's 21-of-35 on two-pointers. That's largely a product of attacking the rim in pick-and-roll sets.

Jackson @JacksonHeil

Four examples of Davion Mitchell rocking a defender to sleep, changing speeds and using his explosive first step to attack the left foot and blow by defenders. #Baylor https://t.co/8gNDOLWWVS

That alone is valuable. However, his gravity as a ball-handler forces an incredibly tough choice for opponents.

Collapsing on Mitchell when he explodes into the paint may seem an obvious adjustment, but that's flawed, too. In five March Madness games, he's tallied 30 assists and only seven turnovers.

Besides, it would only create another problem.

For every defender that clogs the lane, it opens space on the perimeter. Baylor, which shot 11-of-24 from beyond the arc against Houston, ranks No. 1 nationally in three-point percentage.

You have to respect his dribble drive. But you also have to respect his passing. And he's Baylor's top three-point shooter. Mitchell, who's buried 45.3 percent of his triples this season, has become a complete nightmare to contain.

Bleacher Report @BleacherReport

Davion Mitchell beats the buzzer 🚨 Filthy. https://t.co/VD7Svp8gvt

According to ESPN Stats & Info, he's scored or assisted on 38 percent of Baylor's points in the NCAA tournament

As if that's not enough, Mitchell is also a weapon on the other end.

Recently named the men's Defensive Player of the Year, he helped limit Arkansas star Moses Moody to 2-of-10 shooting in the Elite Eight. On Saturday, Mitchell played a key role in the Bears holding Houston star Quentin Grimes scoreless in the first half.

"We call him 'Off Night,' because people tend to have off nights with him," Baylor coach Scott Drew told reporters after the win over Arkansas.

Drew again praised Mitchell on Saturday, lauding his guard's two-way ability. That versatility has launched the program into its first appearance in the national championship since 1948.

In all likelihood, Baylor needs both Butler and Mitchell to thrive in order to win a title. That's been the case all season.

With this version of Mitchell, though, the Bears have somehow managed to become an even greater force on both ends of the court. And now, Baylor is one victory from the best news possible: cutting down the nets in Indianapolis.


Statistics courtesy of KenPom.com or Sports-Reference.com, unless otherwise noted. Follow Bleacher Report writer David Kenyon on Twitter @Kenyon19_BR.