It is not often that we get to see two of the best players in the country go head-to-head on opening night, but that is exactly what we got when Tony Mitchell and the North Texas Mean Green went to Omaha to take on Doug McDermott and the No. 15 Creighton Bluejays.
If Tony Mitchell and Doug McDermott both make the same decision this spring, we will see them playing in the NBA next year. For the lucky fans in Omaha, they got a preview of what that will look like Friday night.
At Mid-Major Madness, we will be following those players that seem most likely to fall into the top 100 draft prospects at the end of the season. As McDermott and Mitchell look likely to both make the decision to jump into the league, this game was a no-brainer to start our draft scouting.
I was able to attend this game and watch these two go head-to-head, and I came away impressed with both of them.
"I just think it's unique," Creighton head coach and Doug's father Greg McDermott said. "You've got two of the top 10 players in the country playing against each other on opening night, and that just doesn't happen very often ... They are two guys that have had a great career so far and they are good friends and were teammates on Team USA, so there's just a lot to make of the story I believe. Obviously, they both played pretty well tonight."
Tony Mitchell (Current Mock Draft: Projected 7th overall pick - Draft Express)
Performance: Mitchell put up a solid stat-line of 18 points, 8-for-15 shooting (2-for-5 from 3), seven rebounds, two blocks, two steals and one turnover in 30 minutes. However, for someone so highly touted coming into the game, I expected to see more out of him.
Mitchell started off the game with a quick contested 17-footer along the baseline, which he clanked, and then took an NBA 3-pointer on his next shot, which wasn't close. That's probably not the way you want your big man to start the game. But then Mitchell got himself going with a steal and breakaway dunk, followed by a 3-pointer, a tip-slam and a layup in the span of about 150 seconds. He made some plays with his athleticism during that stretch that Creighton just couldn't do anything about.
In the second half, Mitchell only shot the ball five times -- two of those from behind the arc. In the first half, he had four layups/dunks, but he only had one in the second. Due to a combination of factors including foul trouble, Creighton's defense and North Texas' lack of offensive execution, Mitchell wasn't much of a factor.
"He got off to a good start, he was really confident and dunking stuff, and then I thought that Gregory [Echenique] did a really good job on him in the second half and kind of got him frustrated," Doug McDermott said. "We let him shoot those 3s, and he hit a couple, but that was the game-plan."
The Bluejays had planned to pack the paint and give Mitchell multiple looks, increasing the difficulty for the Mean Green star, and they executed it well.
"We were just going to plug it up," Greg McDermott said. "We wanted him to be thinking about where the help was coming from, and sometimes we brought it from the top, sometimes we brought it with the other big. He's a tremendous player, and I didn't feel like we could let him get in a rhythm and let him get started. I thought to start the game Gregory did a good job on him. The when they went to a bigger line-up we moved Doug to him and came with the double-team. I thought we did a good job."
Echenique, Creighton's senior center and the reigning MVC Defensive Player of the Year, is an excellent post defender and battled with Mitchell all night. Creighton's reserve bigs, Ethan Wragge and Will Artino, also came in and did a good job on him.
One thing that really stuck out to me is that Mitchell did not attempt a single free throw. For someone with his immense physical ability, that simply cannot happen. He has to become much better at drawing contact and getting to the line going forward.
Mitchell kind of floated in and out of the game at times. Part of that is him not exerting himself, but it also had a lot to do with Creighton's defensive execution and North Texas' lack of execution on offense. This was the Mean Green's first game under new head coach Tony Benford, and they did not appear to have much cohesion offensively.
"I have to a better job of getting him in different spots," Benford said. "He only took 15 shots, and I have to get him some more shots in the post. But they did a good job of keeping him off-guard, doubling, fronting him in the post, but I thought Tony played well."
Final Thoughts: Tony Mitchell is an intriguing prospect. The physical tools he has likely has NBA front offices salivating, but he still has plenty of work to do. He is a projected lottery pick if he were to enter the NBA Draft after this year, and while I do have some concerns after watching him play, they aren't enough for me to disagree with that.
I would compare Mitchell to Thomas Robinson, the big man from Kansas who was taken by the Sacramento Kings with the 5th overall pick last year. He is a bit of a project, but if he puts in the work he's going to be a very good player.
Doug McDermott (Current Mock Draft: Projected 41st overall pick according to Draft Express)
Performance: McDermott is the exact opposite of Mitchell. He doesn't have elite physical tools, but his knowledge and feel for the game as well as his skill level are off the charts. McDermott is one of the most efficient scorers in the country, a great rebounder and a hard-working defender.
An NBA scout in attendance told me that he was especially impressed with McDermott's motor and how he never stopped working.
However, projecting to the NBA, McDermott is too small to defend the post, but too slow laterally to defend perimeter players. Who he is going to be able to defend is McDermott's biggest problem right now. He certainly gives effort and isn't a terrible defender by any means, but his lack of length and athleticism means he won't ever be an impact player on that side of the floor and will likely be a liability against certain players.
Doug had a typical Doug game with 21 points on 6-for-11 shooting (1-for-3 from deep), 8-for-8 from the free-throw line, 11 rebounds, two assists and two turnovers in 31 minutes. The man was just born to get buckets.
He was active all game, scoring 12 and hauling in six rebounds in the first half, and scoring nine points and bringing in five rebounds in the second. What impressed me the most though was his ability to get to the free-throw line so often. While McDermott drew 5.0 fouls per game last season, he only went to the line on 32.7 percent of his shots. Improving on his free throw rate is an area he needs to work on this year.
McDermott crashed the boards relentlessly, boxing the athletic North Texas players out on defense and putting pressure on them at the other end. He defended well enough for the most part, although he wasn't asked to guard Mitchell one-on-one.
One area McDermott has made major strides in since his freshman year is his ball movement and passing out of the post, and he made some nice passes in this game.
"Doug got double-teamed a lot tonight and he flipped it out and we played out of it, and when things got a little slow, we threw it to him and let them react defensively and then moved it," Greg McDermott said.
Final Thoughts: There's no doubt in my mind that Doug McDermott is going to be a quality rotation player in the NBA. He's just too good not to be one. He's projected to go in the early-to-mid second round, but I will be a bit disappointed if that's where he gets picked. McDermott is just such a skilled, intelligent and hard-working player that I have to believe he'll find a way to adjust and play with the same efficient and hard-working style as he does in college.