Mitchell works to adjust early shortcomings

Despite impressive defensive performances, senior post player has struggled on offense

The 2013 season was a breakout year for senior forward Akil Mitchell. He emerged as one of the most well-rounded big men in the ACC and ranked third in the conference with 12 double-doubles. And perhaps even more impressively, Mitchell improved his per-game scoring by nine points from the previous year.

But this year has been a different story for Mitchell, with his points per game scoring falling by nearly seven points. The drop-off can be partially attributed to reduced minutes per game prompted by the depth Virginia has in the paint this season, but much of Mitchell’s fall in production can be pointed to his struggles at the line.

“Obviously, he is struggling at the free throw line,” coach Tony Bennett said. “So he is shooting a lot of them. A lot of that is mental.”

Mitchell’s free throw shooting is at a career low 43.8 percent, a far cry from the 69.3 percent he shot last year. But Mitchell is not alone — of the Virginia players that recorded minutes last season, every player with more than 10 minutes per game this season is shooting worse from the free throw line than they did last year. But given that Mitchell leads the team in free throw attempts on the year with 64, his unprecedented shooting slump is proving costly for a Virginia team that is No. 306 in the nation in points per game.

“I’m still working on it,” Mitchell said. “I’m positive it’ll get better.”

The shooting struggles for Mitchell have not been isolated to the free throw line. Mitchell’s shooting percentages are down across the board. Most noticeable is his 56.5 field goal percentage at the rim, or his ability to convert layups and dunks. Historically, those shots have been Mitchell’s bread and butter, as nearly 70 percent of his shot attempts come from around the rim, and last year he converted nearly 64 percent of those attempts.

Fortunately for the Cavaliers, the shooting struggles have not prevented Mitchell from making a significant impact on the defensive side of the ball. Mitchell has been an integral part of Virginia’s interior defense, which is holding opponents to only 32 percent from inside the arc. Against Duke, Mitchell held star freshman Jabari Parker to just eight points in the game.

“[Mitchell] did such a good job defensively,” Bennett said. “Parker can create space and shoot that three ball. Akil [Mitchell] was our best match for him.”

Parker, projected by many to be a top-three pick in this year’s NBA draft, was held to less than 10 points for only the second time this season.

“He’s a good player,” Mitchell said. “I think I’m different than most people he’ll face all year … I have the size and quickness to stick with him.”

Published January 14, 2014 in Sports

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