Last season, Akil Mitchell was a double-double machine.
The 6-foot-9 forward fit seamlessly into the Virginia starting lineup for the graduated Mike Scott and had 12 double-doubles, two more than Scott had notched the season before.
Mitchell averaged 13.1 points and 8.9 rebounds and was voted to the All-ACC third team.
This season, the senior’s numbers have been way down.
Through 10 games, Mitchell doesn’t have any double-doubles and is averaging just 6.3 points and 4.8 rebounds.
So what gives?
A lot of things.
For starters, Mitchell, with all of Virginia’s front-court depth, is playing about seven minutes less per game than he did last season when he averaged 30.5 minutes, the second-most on the team behind Joe Harris.
Then there is the increased attention that somebody who is an All-ACC performer receives from opponents.
“After putting up [those] numbers last year, he’s probably getting guarded a little better, a little harder,” said Virginia coach Tony Bennett, during a teleconference on Monday .
Mitchell is also operating in slightly different spots on the floor than he did last season when he was sometimes the big man in a four-guard lineup.
“If you watched him, he got a lot of dunks, finishes... he probably hasn’t had quite as many of those [this season],” said Bennett, whose team returns to the court on Saturday when it hosts Northern Iowa. “He’s had to sometimes try and manufacture some of his own stuff.
“It’s important for Akil that we try and get him where he’s on the finishing end more than the starting and creating end [of plays].”
Bennett said Virginia’s tougher schedule may also have something to do with Mitchell’s decreased production.
“There’s no padding stats this year, you know you’ve got to play,” he said. “And we’ve also got a little more balance and depth, and that’s also taken some [stats] away.
“Overall, he’s been productive, but I think he can play better and we can play better.”
Bennett said his biggest area of concern with Mitchell and his other post players right now is their assist-to-turnover ratios.
Mitchell has 15 assists to 15 turnovers, while Anthony Gill has five assists to 16 turnovers and Mike Tobey has two assists to 15 turnovers.
Bennett thinks his bigs may be handling the ball a little too much, which has led to the miscues.
“It’s not good,” he said. “We have to become better in that area.”
A tip from Pop
Bennett said he has taken a page out of San Antonio Spurs coach Greg Popovich’s playbook.
During the team’s 13-day hiatus for winter exams, Virginia has practiced every other day – something Bennett said Popovich and the Spurs did during a long layoff prior to last June’s NBA Finals.
“It doesn’t let them get too rusty, but allows them to rest their bodies, get their studying and then we go hard every other day,” Bennett said. “I hope that will be effective.”
Blame Papa Bennett?
Bennett laughed when asked if Virginia fans should direct their anger from the Dec. 7 loss at Green Bay to his father.
Dick Bennett, the former coach of the Phoenix, is serving as an advisor to the program this season, though Tony Bennett said he could hear his dad giving him advice during the defeat.
“I think I heard him one time yelling, “Post up Tobey!” said Bennett, smiling.
Joe’s free-throw woes
Joe Harris was 1 of 3 from the free-throw line against Green Bay and is now shooting a career-low 54 percent (14 of 26).
Bennett was asked if Harris – a 75-percent shooter before this season – was “pressing” at the foul line.
“Yeah, well something’s going on at the line,” Bennett said. “He’s never shot 90 [percent] for us, but he’s uncomfortable at the line [now].
“I always judge guys by how they miss. If it’s a good miss, in and out, or it’s right on line or it’s soft on the rim, you say, ‘OK.’ But when you see shooters and one time it’s really short and barely hits the front of the rim or is real long – it just seems like he’s uncomfortable.”
Bennett, though, sounded optimistic that Harris can get back in the groove.
“That bothers him,” Bennett said. “That would drive anybody nuts... that’s like if you’re missing two-foot putts. That starts wearing on you. Hopefully he can get settled in there, have a real good game [from the line] and get it behind him.”