McDermott vs. Mitchell a Fun Show, But the Lesson Lies in Creighton’s LegitimacyPosted by dnspewak on November 9th, 2012
Danny Spewak is an RTC correspondent and Big 12 microsite writer. He filed this report from Omaha after Creighton’s 71-51 victory over North Texas tonight. You can follow him on Twitter @dspewak.
The Tony Mitchell Show began with a fast-break dunk in the opening minutes and continued with a block, a three-pointer from the wing, another swat, a monstrous slam off an offensive rebound and, finally, a loud, piercing scream of raw emotion directed toward the sold-out CenturyLink Center crowd. The public address announcer continued to call that name in monotone – Tony Mitchell – as he racked up nine points, two dunks and two blocks in the first eight minutes of the game to put himself on pace for numbers that would make ESPN look foolish for failing to televise this matchup against All-American Doug McDermott and Creighton.
A funny thing happened, though, as the game progressed. North Texas, the consensus Sun Belt favorite but a team heavily reliant on underclassmen, began to crumble when Mitchell struggled offensively. A Mean Green offensive drought turned into a double-digit deficit, and by the end of the half, Mitchell sat on the bench with two fouls as his team fell out of contention. Suddenly, it became apparent that this wasn’t the Tony Mitchell Show or the Doug McDermott Show, nor was this game simply an individual battle between Tony Mitchell and Doug McDermott. Instead, the 71-51 throttling was a testament to the potential and limitless ceiling of this Creighton team. More importantly, it was a testament to the fact that the Mean Green have a long, long way to go. Still, this was no Division II school to open 2012-13 season—instead, the Bluejays welcomed one of the nation’s top players in Mitchell and a team with serious NCAA Tournament hopes. “I don’t know if I’ve been as nervous for an opening game for this one than I have been in 24 years of doing this,” coach Greg McDermott said. “I thought it was a great idea when we scheduled it, and then all this week I thought it was a terrible idea.”
Vintage Creighton came to play on Friday night. The performance reinforces everything we knew about the Jays from last season: They’re smart, they don’t waste possessions and, most importantly, they are more than just Doug McDermott. Offensively, Grant Gibbs ran the point – a new position for him after the graduation of Antoine Young — to perfection, teaming with sophomore Austin Chatman. When North Texas doubled McDermott, he found a way to get his teammates involved and, as they did all of last season, they rewarded him by shooting 50 percent from the field in a display of flawless execution. Gibbs, who was named a captain last season before he ever even appeared in a Creighton uniform, continued to prove himself as one of the nation’s most underrated players. He simply never makes mistakes, and his steady play serves as the catalyst for this offense. “They’re one of the most efficient teams in the country,” said UNT coach Tony Benford, coaching his first game at the school after previously serving as an assistant at Marquette. “I did a lot of scouting in the Big East, and they’re as efficient as anybody I played in the Big East.”
That, ladies and gentlemen, is the difference between Creighton and North Texas right now. In terms of individual talent level, it’s probably a wash between McDermott and Mitchell. They’re both elite players in different ways – Mitchell because of his freakish athleticism, and McDermott because of his versatility and efficiency – but the Bluejays are more experienced, more balanced, and flat-out better. That’s why they began the season in the Top 25, and that’s why they should roll through a solid Missouri Valley Conference without many roadblocks. Critics often knock Creighton’s lack of defensive toughness, but even Mitchell could attest to the Bluejays’ revitalized attitude on the defensive end. “They were aggressive with us. At the same time, we didn’t execute,” he said. “Taking bad shots, quick threes, not enough paint touches.” Creighton offered a blueprint to the rest of college basketball on defending Mitchell. Obviously, it doubled him on every possession, but Creighton also switched defenders between McDermott and Echinique and kept him guessing. “We wanted him to be thinking about where the help would be coming from,” Greg McDermott said. “He’s a tremendous player and we didn’t feel like we could let him get in a rhythm.”
After his quick start, Mitchell stopped getting his touches and the guards began to fire up ill-advised shots. Jordan Williams, a stud wing with as much potential as anybody in his league, finished 1-for-7 from the field in the first half and never got into a groove. The ball movement wasn’t there, and Creighton and North Texas looked like polar opposites. One team crisply moving the ball from side to side; the other team standing around. In short, one team looked like it belonged in the Top 25. The other looked like it had a lot of work to do.
On a national scale, this game drew interest because it was McDermott versus Mitchell. The match-up provided some decent entertainment. McDermott enjoyed another typical Dougie D night with a double-double and an 8-for-8 performance from the free throw line, whereas Mitchell added an impressive alley-oop in the second half and totaled a team-high 18 points. “I think it’s just unique, you’ve got two of the top 10 players in the country playing each other on opening night,” Greg McDermott said. “And that just doesn’t happen. I think the reaction and the hype leading up to that was natural. It could have happened anywhere in the country, but it just happened to be in Omaha.”
Unfortunately, only us folks in Omaha could witness this one, since no television outlet picked up the game. Regardless, it’s fair to say Creighton notched one of the more signature victories of college hoops’ opening weekend. North Texas looked as out of sync as humanely possible during certain stretches on Friday, but if Mitchell gets his touches and his young nucleus progresses, Greg McDermott will be very happy he scheduled the Mean Green. No matter how nervous they made him this week.