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'He's a nightmare' — How Baylor's Davion Mitchell became college hoops' biggest problem

Pete Thamel
·5-min read

INDIANAPOLIS – Baylor guard Davion Mitchell yo-yoed the ball between his legs at the top of the key, sized up Arkansas guard JD Notae and rocketed past him with a pair of left-handed dribbles. Mitchell briefly cradled the ball in his left hand as he glided to the basket, switched it to his right hand and short-armed a layup from the left side.

That crafty play, early in the second half of No. 1 Baylor’s 81-72 victory over No. 3 Arkansas, took much longer for you to read about than it did for Mitchell to execute. Picking a definitive highlight from the Davion Mitchell domination collection would be a tall task this NCAA tournament, as he’s left countless defenders in his wake, distributed with instinctive flair and defended with reputational saltiness.

As Baylor cut down the nets to reach the school’s first men’s NCAA Final Four since 1950, Mitchell showed why he could be the cheat code that helps lead the school to its first-ever national title. Scott Drew’s Bears improved to 26-2 and Baylor has again firmly positioned itself as the best potential foil to undefeated Gonzaga. The Bears spent much of the year buzz-sawing through the schedule before a COVID-19 pause knocked them out of sorts.

They’re clearly back to knocking other programs out of sorts, as Baylor led Arkansas by as many as 18 points, forced 15 Razorback turnovers and shot 8-for-15 from 3-point range. Only No. 2 Houston stands in the way of this splendid Bears team playing for a national title. “It’s not our first time in the fire,” guard MaCio Teague said.

Mitchell played lead saboteur late Monday, as he endured early foul trouble to finish the game plus-17 and his South Region MOP confirmed what’s been obvious — Mitchell is playing as well as anyone in the NCAA tournament.

There are better prospects in the NCAA tournament than Mitchell, a 6-foot-2 junior guard who is 205 pounds of bottled lightning. We’ve seen Oklahoma State’s Cade Cunningham exit and Gonzaga’s Jalen Suggs and USC’s Evan Mobley advance. All are tremendous.

Davion Mitchell (L) and Mark Vital celebrate after defeating Arkansas in the Elite Eight on March 29. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Davion Mitchell (L) and Mark Vital celebrate after defeating Arkansas in the Elite Eight on March 29. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

But none of those top-five locks have played with the consistent verve of Mitchell — every dribble is spiked with caffeine, every finish a contender for "One Shining Moment" and every defensive possession from the Cus D’Amato handbook. Mitchell has an explosive aura that’s best appreciated in person, a first step that would make Astaire jealous, a steely will from the Lowry collection and an innate ability to distribute, disrupt and destroy that makes NBA scouts gush with rare praise.

“He will harass you and it is like a death by a thousand cuts,” an NBA scout told Yahoo late Monday. “Everywhere you go, every turn, he’s there. I don’t know if it’s physical or mental, but it’s debilitating.”

That description certainly fit Arkansas’ Moses Moody on Monday night. He entered the night the highest touted prospect on the floor and left it frustrated and overwhelmed. Moody, a 6-foot-6 guard, finished the night 2-of-10 from the field and 0-for-4 from 3-point range. He turned the ball over three times and contributed to an Arkansas shot selection that would charitably be considered non-judicious.

Mitchell didn’t get to turn loose on defense as he typically does. The redshirt junior, who transferred from Auburn, picked up three first-half fouls and got moved off the ball. “Obviously, I think he's the best defender in the country,” Drew said. He added: “We call him Off Night, because people tend to have off nights with him. But he's a nightmare to bring the ball up against. And he sets the tone for our defense.”

Baylor’s offense perfectly suits Mitchell’s game, as Drew’s team maintains consistent spacing to give Mitchell room to parry to the hoop. Mitchell can operate with a unique array of flips and floaters and also used the space to draw extra defenders. “He’s so balanced, as he can score going 100 miles an hour,” the NBA scout said. “Throw in his passing, and it’s nearly impossible to guard with the shooters around him and the speed that he provides.

None of Mitchell’s six assists epitomized that more than him feeding MaCio Teague for a 3-pointer that bumped the Baylor lead back to double-digits, 72-61, with 3:59 remaining.

Mitchell came around on a dribble handoff and probed the defense to draw a double team. Teague, who had a game-high 22 points, noted how Mitchell looked up to see him, waited patiently and found him for the game’s dagger. It completed a connection back when Teague, who transferred from UNC-Asheville, arrived at the same time as Mitchell from Auburn. “He did text me to say, if I came here we’d go to the Final Four,” Teague said. “That didn’t happen overnight. That was three years ago.”

Mitchell played just nine first-half minutes because of the three fouls and had just two points at the break. He made up for it in the second half, as he finished with 12 points on 11 shots. “I did what I had to do,” he told CBS after the game.

With the stage bigger and stakes higher, Drew invited everyone back to see just how Mitchell’s bottled lightning will get unleashed against Houston. “Hopefully you're here for next weekend and you can see just how special he is on the ball,” Drew said.

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