Starting Five: Mitchell, Mitchell, Mitchell!

Tre Mitchell’s hot streak, a pick-and-roll pairing and more


Parker Peters/Daily Collegian

By Amin Touri, Editor in Chief

Another big UMass win, another five things to chat about from the film.

The Massachusetts men’s basketball team overcame a 16-point first-half deficit to take down a very good Saint Louis team on Tuesday night, in large part thanks to another huge night from Tre Mitchell. The freshman big man put up 24 points — including 22 in the second half — to bring the Minutemen roaring back for their fourth win in their last seven games, a far cry from the 2-12 stretch that preceded that.

Mitchell’s been the star; he’s averaging 21 points on 53 percent shooting in that stretch, including a 30-point night against Rhode Island, 26 against Dayton, 25 against Duquesne and 24 on Tuesday. It’s a team sport, but for the last few weeks, it’s been all about Mitchell, Mitchell, Mitchell.

1. Dominating down low

Tre Mitchell is probably the best offensive post player in the Atlantic 10. That should sound ridiculous, considering he’s 19 years old and has to compete with the likes of Dayton’s Obi Toppin, Richmond’s Grant Golden, Rhode Island’s Cyril Langevine — no big man can top Mitchell’s 19.8 points per game in conference play, and only Toppin has outscored him across the entire season; he doesn’t have the sort of polished post moves Mitchell has.

A-10 big men don’t do this sort of thing to Hasahn French — an A-10 All-Defensive selection last year — in single coverage, and they certainly don’t do it with a double team coming:

via Gfycat

How many freshmen have you seen that have the sort of craft to take a national player of the year candidate to the cleaners like Mitchell does to Obi Toppin here:

I only wish I had more footage from the URI game, when Mitchell spent most of the night backing down Langevine, another A-10 All-Defensive selection from last season and perhaps the best defensive big man in the league. Mitchell caught it every time down the floor in the second half especially, went right at Langevine, drew every double team imaginable and dropped 30 anyway.

It’s sort of unbelievable the way Mitchell’s developed just this season. You saw the flashes early of what he could do inside, but he’s very clearly stronger and in better shape than he was in October and he’s holding his own against the biggest and best the A-10 has to offer. His finishing inside is unbelievable, shooting almost 55 percent on twos in conference play despite all the attention he gets down low. He’s eating double-teams alive.

Mitchell’s 19.8 points per game in conference play is only a few tenths behind URI’s Fatts Russell for the best in the A-10 — no other freshman is even within six points of that number. He’s been spectacular, and he’s done much of it in the trenches.

2. Sharing is caring

Matt McCall has mentioned on several occasions that Mitchell’s passing is one of his best attributes, and his development in that area has been huge for his ability to deal with double teams. Mitchell’s averaging about two assists per game in conference play, sixth among A-10 big men, a number that should probably be higher with the number of open looks the Minutemen have missed on kickout threes — for reference, Golden’s 3.3 assists per game in conference play leads all A-10 big men, as he kicks out to Richmond teammates shooting 34 percent from three in conference play, fifth-best in the league; UMass is shooting just 29 percent, the worst mark in the A-10.

Still, that passing was on display on Tuesday, as was Mitchell’s gravity inside — teams have to worry about him, and it leads to open looks. Take this Dibaji Walker three, a big momentum shift in the game: as soon as Mitchell catches it, SLU’s Tay Weaver is only worried about the big man, frantically pointing at Javonte Perkins to go and double while cheating over for a potential double himself. Weaver leaves Walker open amidst the chaos, Mitchell hits him and it’s a three-point game.

That’s fear. Nobody in the A-10 draws that sort of attention down low, and Mitchell’s learned both how to take care of the ball and turn that attention into open shots for others. Here’s another, this time against Duquesne — Mitchell draws an immediate triple-team and fires a perfect pass to Keon Clergeot for a great look:

via Gfycat

If UMass can knock those down, Mitchell’s assist totals will be on the rise.

I mentioned in an earlier edition of this column, with a clip of Mitchell euro-stepping for a layup, how jarring it must be for UMass fans to see a big man with that sort of agility after years of Rashaan Holloway, Malik Hines, Khalea Turner-Morris and so on. I feel very similarly about this clip, in which Mitchell catches it on the wing, takes Yuri Collins out of the play with a slick pass fake, draws a double-team to leave just two defenders covering the other four Minutemen and slips it to Santos for a dunk on the baseline:

via Gfycat

Who does this? What 19-year-old big man have you seen pull strings like that at this level? If the Minutemen even start shooting a league-average mark from three, the A-10’s in some trouble. Speaking of threes:

3. -point shooting

Mitchell’s 3-point shooting is a touch complicated — on the surface, he’s only shooting 29.2 percent, which isn’t great. You can think about it this way: if he’s shooting 29 percent on threes, that’s an average of .87 points per attempt, much less efficient than the 1.10 points per possession afforded to him by his 55 percent shooting on twos.

But here’s the thing: first of all, he’s shooting 32.6 percent in conference play, a big improvement over the 26.1 percent mark he posted in the non-conference slate. Second, because he’s at least a serviceable 3-point threat and teams have to respect his ability to shoot — he was 2-of-5 from deep on Tuesday — it frees him up to do stuff like this:

If Mitchell doesn’t at least threaten from three, he doesn’t draw a genuine closeout, he doesn’t have a step on his man and he doesn’t have a bucket. He does this all the time, and it’s very easy to see that 3-point shot improving. Even 33 percent is enough to complement the rest of his game — if he gets up to 36, 37 percent, he’s going to be an unbelievable headache. This isn’t Djery Baptiste or Rashaan Holloway; Mitchell has a clean, smooth stroke that a long summer in the gym could absolutely sharpen.

So, you single-cover him, he kills you. You double-team, he kills you. You close out from three, he kills you. You leave him open, you’re still in trouble. What the hell is anyone going to do against a sophomore, junior or senior Tre Mitchell?

I have no idea.

4. Picking and rolling

Aside from “give the ball to Tre Mitchell and let him do basketball” (and with T.J. Weeks and his corner threes running off the baseline out for the season) UMass lacks a real “money” play that they can go to when the offense gets stagnant. McCall talked about Sean East quite a bit after Tuesday’s game, and there’s some potential in an East/Mitchell pick-and-roll developing.

Mitchell is not the high-flying rim-runner that, say, Obi Toppin is, but he and East otherwise have all the tools for a great pick-and-roll: they can both handle the ball, they can both shoot and they both have great passing vision.

Here’s an example from Tuesday: Hasahn French stays middle as East goes around the screen, perhaps expecting Mitchell to roll to the rim; instead Mitchell pops out to the 3-point line, and that extra beat leaves French in no-man’s land and East hits Mitchell for an open three.

This second one isn’t all that successful, but you can see the positives. East actually rejects the pick-and-roll, sensing that Demarius Jacobs is cheating towards the screen, and a lightning crossover puts East in space. The problem here is really Samba Diallo, who runs right at East and screws up the spacing:

via Gfycat

But even still, there are two benefits: were East not staring at so much traffic with Diallo in his way, he might’ve seen Clergeot, who was open for a corner three or a free cut baseline. Second, Mitchell ends up with a mismatch after Saint Louis has to switch on the fly. UMass doesn’t have enough time on the clock to take advantage, but it’s there.

The last one is the best of the night, for UMass’ final bucket to seal the game. French chooses to hedge and force East to make a decision; the freshman stays cool, fakes a pass to Santos to freeze French, and that split-second hesitation is too much for French to recover back to Mitchell. It’s an open pass, and a game-sealing layup.

Are East and Mitchell ever going to run the pick-and-roll like John Stockton and Karl Malone? Probably not. But the potential is there for a consistent partnership when UMass is struggling offensively and needs a bucket somewhere.

5. The misadventures of Samba Diallo, part three

On Wednesday afternoon I tweeted a bunch of videos of the Minutemen dancing to various music, headlined by Dibaji Walker front and center:

But if we zoom in on Samba Diallo, we see that while his teammates are vibing to whatever actual music is in the background, he has absolutely no time for this silliness and the man just wants to practice his free throws.


Never change, Samba. Never change.

Amin Touri can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @Amin_Touri.