Virginia Coach Tony Bennett said Tuesday that the plan was for sophomore forward Akil Mitchell to make his second career ACC start Thursday when the Cavaliers host Boston College. And that makes sense, given the Eagles start a 7-foot center and a 6-8 forward, along with three guards.
The four-guard lineup Virginia used to considerable success during the second half of Sunday’s 47-45 loss to Virginia Tech might hold up well against some opponents, but maybe not so much against others. As Bennett has said regarding his use of the four-guard look, it all will depend on the matchups.
Despite the size of Boston College’s starting post players, the Eagles do not rebound well, which could lead to more opportunities for Mitchell, who stands 6-8. He had a rough night Sunday, tallying just two points and one rebound. And particularly until Virginia’s perimeter players snap out of their collective scoring drought, the Cavaliers simply need more from Mitchell than that.
Mitchell said Tuesday he felt as though the Hokies “made it a priority” to limit his effectiveness on the boards. He said he heard some of Virginia Tech’s coaches yelling at their players to keep him off the glass and that on every shot attempt one Virginia Tech player specifically located Mitchell to box him out.
He understands that’s a compliment to his abilities. Mitchell had averaged 6.7 rebounds per game in the three contests that preceded the one Sunday night. But he also understands all that means is that he’s got to work harder to get to rebounds anyway.
When asked what adjustment he will make moving forward, Mitchell said: “Not giving up on the play. A couple times I [ran into] guys bouncing out to box me out and just kind of stayed there. Just probably get a little bit more active to try to get to the glass.”
Against Boston College, Mitchell will match up against either Eagles center Dennis Clifford (7 feet, 241 pounds) or forward Ryan Anderson (6-8, 217 pounds). Clifford is the team’s leading scorer (10.1 points per game), while Anderson is the team’s leading rebounder (6.4 per game).
But as a team, Boston College does not rebound well. Other than Anderson, only Clifford (5.2 rpg) and 6-5 guard Matt Humphrey (3.3 rpg) average more than three rebounds per game. The Eagles own a negative-6.3 rebounding margin.
Virginia, meantime, possesses a plus-7.1 rebounding margin. Four active Virginia players average more than three rebounds per game, though sophomore guard Joe Harris (4.1 rpg) may not be at full strength* after battling the flu this week. Freshman forward Darion Atkins is averaging 2.8 rebounds per game, and he has tallied at least three boards in relatively limited action in three of the Cavaliers’ past four games.
* Bennett said he was hopeful that Harris would be able to play Thursday. In the even that Harris cannot play, Bennett said freshman guard Malcolm Brogdon likely would start in Harris’s place. Harris is Virginia’s second-leading scorer and rebounder.
Mitchell is averaging 3.9 rebounds per game, and as his playing time increases due to the recent ankle injury suffered by senior center Assane Sene, Mitchell will be expected to improve that mark. As one of the most athletic players on the team, he is fully capable of providing Virginia a consistently solid presence on the boards. He just has to, as he said, become a little more fully engaged every time a shot goes up.
Given the Cavaliers’ recent shooting struggles, Mitchell’s rebounding production could prove critical. Bennett has talked often about the need for “X-factor” points when shots aren’t falling. Well, offensive rebounds can lead to put-backs, and put-backs can lead to second chance points.
If Mitchell can give Virginia a few such baskets each game, the Cavaliers may be better positioned to weather the nights when their shooting touch is off and the majority of the pressure is on their defense to come through.