Virginia Coach Tony Bennett re-emphasized Monday during his segment of the ACC coaches’ teleconference that the Cavaliers’ ability to rely more on a four-guard lineup in the coming weeks will depend largely on how they match up with their opponent on a give night.
Because Virginia likely won’t use a four-guard look full-time until senior center Assane Sene returns, let’s take a closer look at Akil Mitchell and Darion Atkins, the two Cavaliers big men who will be asked to spell Mike Scott and fill out the other frontcourt spot when Virginia employs the traditional three-guard, two-forward lineup.
Mitchell, a sophomore, had been showing vast improvement, particularly on the boards, in the three games preceding Sunday’s 47-45 loss to Virginia Tech. He’d averaged 6.7 rebounds off the bench in those three contests. But last night, in the first ACC start of his career, Mitchell finished with one rebound and two points on 1 of 3 shooting.
After logging 17 minutes in the first half, Mitchell played eight minutes in the second half, during which Virginia relied mostly on a four-guard lineup. He’s only gotten more playing time than her received last night (25 minutes) once this season. Assuming he continues to play roughly 25 minutes a game until Sene returns, the Cavaliers will need more production defensively and on the boards from one of their most athletic players.
When asked to evaluate Mitchell’s performance Sunday on both ends of the floor, Bennett called it “solid,” while noting several areas in which Mitchell needs to be more effective.
Regarding Mitchell’s drop-off in rebounding last night, Bennett pointed out that many times Mitchell was having to defend along the perimeter, which made it more difficult for him to secure positioning in the paint for defensive rebounds. Mitchell recorded no defensive rebounds Sunday.
“They did a good job spacing out and a lot of his matchups were on the perimeter so he wasn’t able to come back and get around the glass,” Bennett said. “But that’s a strength of his, and we need him to continue to have really a nose for the ball on both the offensive and the defensive glass.”
Mitchell was charged with defending Virginia Tech forward Jarell Eddie late in the first half, and on several occasions Eddie found himself with a little too much space and, consequently, relatively open looks.
Mitchell said the Hokies “screen-and-flips,” on which Mitchell initially had to defend off the screen (set by Eddie) and then recover to pick up Eddie a few seconds later.
Eddie “was hitting deep shots,” Mitchell said. “They were all hitting really tough shots in the first half.”
Indeed, Eddie made two three-pointers late in the first half, and Virginia Tech scored on each of its final four possessions before the break. Eddie entered the night shooting 50.8 percent (31 for 61) from three-point range and made 2 of 5 shots from beyond the arc Sunday.
“When [Mitchell] matched up on Eddie, Eddie made a couple of tough shots, made some plays,” Bennett said. “We told Akil [that Eddie] certainly can shoot the three. You look at his percentages and how they use him, so you’ve got to be able to guard on the perimeter, as well as inside. And Akil’s quick that way. He maybe got caught a couple times moving or helping in a gap and Eddie got a good shot.”
Offensively, Mitchell did not get many opportunities to score, and he didn’t do much with those chances. Virginia doesn’t need much from Mitchell on the offensive end, but the Cavaliers at least need him to be able to finish in advantageous situations.
At one point early in the second half, Mitchell missed a short shot attempt, grabbed the offensive rebound and then missed the put-back attempt. Fortunately for Virginia, the Cavaliers still ended up scoring on that possession. But Mitchell has to be dependable for at least a few “X-factor points,” as Bennett calls them, every game.
Bennett said the team will look for Mitchell and Atkins to collect a some points on the offensive glass and in transition and re-affirmed that both players will have increased opportunities to do as much in upcoming games.
“Anything we can get out of them from an offensive standpoint is big for us, so we’ll look for that without changing who they are and try to make like we’re going to make you go to work like Mike does,” Bennett said. “It’s got to be within their game.”
As for Atkins, he tallied four rebounds and missed the only shot he took in six minutes of action during the first half. He did not play in the second half. Bennett said that was a result of the match-up situation created by the Hokies, as well as Virginia’s desire to remain in a four-guard lineup that proved effective.
Atkins is averaging 10 minutes per game in ACC play, though he has logged more than nine minutes in a conference contest only once (17 at Georgia Tech). It was expected that Atkins’s playing time would be inconsistent this season as he continues to adjust to the college game and grow more familiar with Bennett’s defensive system. Bennett said Monday that Atkins will have more opportunities to contribute in the coming weeks.