NCAA Tournament Report: Mitchell on a roll, Council bounces back, Muss on Rome

By: Bob Holt Bob Holt's Twitter account
Published: Saturday, March 18, 2023
Makhi Mitchell has averaged 12 points, 6 rebounds, 2 blocked shots and 1.5 steals in Arkansas’ past three games — Thursday’s win in the NCAA Tournament and in the two games at the SEC Tournament.
(NWA Democrat-Gazette/Charlie Kaijo)
Makhi Mitchell has averaged 12 points, 6 rebounds, 2 blocked shots and 1.5 steals in Arkansas’ past three games — Thursday’s win in the NCAA Tournament and in the two games at the SEC Tournament. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Charlie Kaijo)

DES MOINES, Iowa — It’s been a good postseason for University of Arkansas forward Makhi Mitchell.

In two SEC Tournament games against Auburn and Texas A&M and one NCAA Tournament game against Illinois, Mitchell has averaged 12.0 points, 6 rebounds, 2.0 blocked shots and 1.5 steals in 26.3 minutes.

“I just play my role, man,” Mitchell said.

Mitchell’s 12 points against Auburn, 15 against Texas A&M and 9 against Illinois are his most combined (36) in a three-game stretch this season.

“Makhi’s really bought into doing his job and helping us win any way he can,” Arkansas freshman point guard Anthony Black said. “We’re going to him more in the post now, and he’s getting buckets and he’s still blocking shots and playing great defense and rebounding to affect the game in all the ways he was before.”

Mitchell’s 48 blocked shots lead the Razorbacks.

“Makhi has been consistent throughout the year for us providing rim protection, providing blocked shots, range rebounding outside of his area,” Arkansas Coach Eric Musselman said. “We have not up to this point really had to double the post because he does such a good job one-on-one defending post offensive players.”

Mitchell has hit 100 of 149 shots (67.1%) and 43 of 65 free throws (66.2%) on the season, including 15 of 18 from the field and 6 of 8 on free throws in the last three games.

“I think Makhi’s feeling more confident in our system,” Musselman said. “I think he’s rising to the occasion in big games.

“That’s what you want from one of your older players on the roster. As we get to this time frame and every game becomes a win-or-go-home situation, you want a guy like that to play at a high level.”

Mitchell is averaging 7.2 points and 5.6 rebounds in 20.1 minutes.

Council bounces back

Arkansas junior guard Ricky Council, a second team All-SEC pick by the coaches and media averaging a team-high 16.0 points, was held to 12 in two games at the SEC Tournament against Auburn and Texas A&M on 3-of-14 shooting.

Council returned to form with team-highs of 18 points and 10 rebounds to help the Razorbacks beat Illinois 73-63 on Thursday. He hit 11 of 13 free throws, including 6 of 6 in the final 1:21 and also had a steal and layup with 1:38 left as the Razorbacks pulled away to win.

“Most definitely the SEC Tournament, to say the least, was frustrating,” Council said. “Being able to get back and have the second double-double of my career, that felt really good as well as getting a win.

“Getting back on track, that definitely gives me momentum for [today’s game against Kansas].”

Council’s rebounds were a season-high, surpassing the seven he had against Missouri and Florida. His career high for rebounds is 15 last season for Wichita State against Tulane last season, when he also had 10 against Houston.

“Ricky has been our leading scorer, a guy we tried to rely on as a go-to player,” Arkansas Coach Eric Musselman said. “He’s a high volume free-throw attempt player.

“I thought one thing Ricky did an awesome job at [against Illinois] and something we have really needed from him — because he’s got the ability with his length, his strength, combination of speed and quickness off the floor — is defensive rebounding.

“I thought his rebounding was really, really vital for our win.”

Council has a team-high 36 of the Razorbacks’ 158 dunks, many in highlight style.

“Ricky is an explosive athlete,” Kansas assistant coach Norm Roberts said. “His first step is ridiculously quick and he’s explosive to the rim. He’s a really, really good player and has had a great year for them.”

Self update

Kansas assistant coach Norm Roberts could be leading the Jayhawks again when they play Arkansas today.

Roberts has served as the team’s coach the previous four games, including a 96-68 victory over Howard in Thursday’s West Region opener, because Bill Self continues recovering from a heart procedure.

Self is in his 20th season as the Jayhawks’ coach.

“Coach is doing well,” Roberts said Friday when he met with the media. “It’s a day-to-day situation with him and everything, but he’s doing good.

“He was at practice with our guys a little while ago and coaching them, so we’ll see what happens [for today’s game].”

Self has been at team meetings as well as practices.

“Coach Self has been around us,” Kansas senior guard Kevin McCullar said. “He’s doing great, and having Coach Rob pushing us, it’s no drop-off.

“Coach Rob knows what he’s doing and he’s a mirror image of Coach Self. He gets the game plan and we go out there and execute.”

More voices

Arkansas Coach Eric Musselman, speaking on Jim Rome’s radio show Friday, said the Razorbacks have become more talkative at the NCAA Tournament.

There was a “different vibe” with the team, Musselman said, when the Razorbacks were watching film Wednesday in preparation to play Illinois.

“We had a film session and nobody said a word,” Musselman told Rome. “About five or six minutes in, I stopped it and said, ‘Hey, you guys are going to start talking. You guys are going to start communicating with one another.

“ ‘You’re going to talk about assignments, you’re going to talk about defensive coverages. You are going to be interactive with each other and with us.’

“And all of a sudden the vibe in the meeting room changed where there was a lot of communication. We then saw that carry over into our huddle [against Illinois on Thursday].

“We’ve had a lot of huddles this year where late game, there really was only one voice, and that was the coaching voice.

“[Thursday] we had a lot of players’ voices. We had a lot of guys get out of their comfort zone verbally. I thought that really, really helped us down the stretch.”

Musselman said he wants the players to be vocal and bring energy in the team huddles.

“The worst thing in the world in my opinion is to have just one voice,” Musselman said. “Now, if we have to diagram a last-second play, certainly you want to have command of the huddle.

“The way to do that is to look each guy individually in the eye, diagram where he’s going, say that player’s name, and you will get buy-in on that.

“But I think when there’s five, six, eight minutes left in the basketball game, and a team’s making a run against you, you’ve got to have internal player leadership.”

Musselman in Big Dance

Arkansas Coach Eric Musselman improved to 9-5 in NCAA Tournament games, including 7-2 with the Razorbacks and 2-3 at Nevada, with Thursday’s 73-63 victory over Illinois.

Musselman has led Arkansas to first-round NCAA Tournament victories in three consecutive years for the first time since Coach Nolan Richardson’s Razorbacks won first-round games eight years inn a row from 1989-1996 in a run that included the 1994 national championship and 1995 runner-up finish to UCLA.

Texas Razorbacks?

First Illinois Coach Brad Underwood compared Arkansas to Texas when asked Wednesday if the Illini had played a team that reminded him of the Razorbacks.

Then Kansas assistant coach Norm Roberts said Friday that Arkansas reminds him of Texas.

What Roberts said might be a good omen for the Razorbacks considering the Longhorns, a No. 2 seed playing Penn State tonight in Wells Fargo Arena after the Arkansas-Kansas game, beat the Jayhawks 76-56 in the Big 12 Tournament championship game.


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