With the 2022-23 season long since in the books, let’s take a few moments to look back at the performance of each member of YOUR Marquette Golden Eagles this year. While we’re at it, we’ll also take a look back at our player previews and see how our preseason prognostications stack up with how things actually played out. We’ll run through the roster in order of total minutes played going from lowest to highest, and today we get started on Marquette’s starting five from this past season......
Sophomore - #4 - Guard - 6’2” - 195 pounds - Reading, Pennsylvania
Stevie Mitchell Traditional Stats
Stevie Mitchell Fancy Stats
** — notes a top 200 national rank per KenPom.com
*** — notes a top 50 national rank per KenPom.com
I think it’s a safe bet that Mitchell is going to be able to replicate last year’s numbers without even trying all that much. His worst case scenario is “defensive pest off the bench.” What we don’t know for certain is exactly what kind of rotation Shaka Smart is going to use for the Golden Eagles this season. If it’s a two-guard option, then that probably has Mitchell coming off the bench in relief of Tyler Kolek and most likely behind Kam Jones as the starting shooting guard. That’s fine, there’s a lot of playing time to vacuum up there.
What if MU goes to a three-guard rotation to make use of the players they have? Is Mitchell actually a starter in that situation, with freshmen Sean Jones and Chase Ross providing the backup pop off the bench to the trio of Kolek, Jones, and Mitchell?
T-Rank certainly seems to think that this kind of a minutes distribution is possible. The standard projection gives Mitchell just over 21 minutes a game while averaging 6.3 points, 2.6 rebounds, and 2.0 assists a game. I will happily sign up for those kinds of numbers right now. However, that’s a projection that expects Emarion Ellis to play, and his recovery from stress fracture surgery means he’s not likely to be ready to go until after the first of the year at the earliest. Double However, filtering Ellis out of the roster doesn’t actually seem to affect Mitchell’s projection, which seems really wild. I suspect this is a “this is how computers think” as opposed to a “I watched Mitchell play as a freshman but not Ellis, so who are we kidding here?” situation.
Why You Should Get Excited
I think it’s safe to say that Mitchell has the basics of what Shaka Smart wants from him on every single possession down. We can nitpick about the game-to-game scheme of things and whether or not Mitchell is a good matchup against particular players if you want, but the ideas of what is going to get Mitchell playing time this year are pretty much set. Mitchell is going to get told to go lock up the best guard on the opposing team over and over again this season, and he’s probably going to do a hell of a job.
Here’s the thing: Mitchell’s not a goof on the offensive end. He shot 52.0% on two-point buckets last season and 35% from long distance. These are perfectly acceptable numbers bordering on being kind of damn good. If he can turn himself into an offensive threat on every single possession that he plays, that’s going to pay dividends for the rest of MU’s offense. I’m not going to expect Mitchell to lead the team in scoring in any single game, but can he be the guy who has a 6-0 or 7-0 burst on his own that makes the other head coach call timeout to break up the run because his team keeps losing Mitchell? Yeah! Mitchell only attempted 20 three-pointers in 32 games last year, and only 10 in MU’s 19 Big East contests. Crank that up to at least one per game, and double his two-point attempts from last year’s 1.6 a night? That’s starting to look like a very scary dude who’s making a big impact on both ends of the court for a Marquette team that’s rocketing towards a second straight NCAA tournament.
Oh, and by the way? Mitchell shot 40% from long range in Big East play last year. In MU’s last three regular season games? 4-for-6. That’s not replicable, sure, but it’s definitely a sign that he’s comfortable knocking down the open corner three in big games when his teammates kick it out to him.
Stevie Mitchell’s ballhandling was an absolute disaster at the start of last season. Two turnovers in 15 minutes against Illinois, four in 12 minutes against St. Bonaventure, three in 20 minutes against Jackson State, two against UConn on December 21st in just one minute of play. That’s 11 of the 21 he committed all season long, all in the first 13 games!
As you can tell, things ironed out from there, and in league games, Mitchell’s turnover rate was a perfectly acceptable 16.2% according to KenPom.com. So here’s the thing that we have to wonder about: Did he get it under control because the coaching staff started putting Mitchell into positions where he wasn’t at as much risk of turning it over or did Mitchell just catch on to the speed and physicality of high major Division 1 hoops?
If it’s the second one, then hooray, no one has to worry about anything. If it’s the first one, then that makes us pause and ask what happens when his role expands this season? Mitchell’s almost always going to be a primary or primary-ish ballhandler when he’s on the court, that’s what happens when you’re a 6’2” guard. There are going to be turnovers just because he’s going to be handling the ball more than a lot of his teammates. Can he be the highly efficient guy that we saw in Big East play? Or are we going to see the problems that popped up against MU’s toughest opponents? It’s heavily weighted by those Illinois/Bonnies/UConn turnovers, but Mitchell’s turnover rate against what KenPom calls top 100 opponents was 30.6%. That’s really bad! That’s “actually maybe you can’t be out there” type of bad.
One other thing to worry about, and maybe because of MU’s offensive style, it won’t matter too much. Mitchell was not a good free throw shooter last year, connecting on just 56% of his 25 attempts. One of Marquette’s biggest flaws as a team last year was just getting to the line, ranking #292 in the country per KenPom. That has to increase this season, and if Mitchell ends up struggling from the line, it makes you curious as to whether or not that will discourage him from taking it to the rack at all. He was pretty good at getting there last year, falling just behind Oso Ighodaro and Greg Elliott in the team lead in Free Throw to Field Goal ratio. If he’s worried about making the freebies when he gets there, is that going to stop him from making use of his ability to get there?
Let’s start with what we knew Stevie Mitchell could do and thus had to do for the 2022-23 version of Marquette: Defend.
Just purely in terms of how much his playing time improved from his freshman year to his sophomore year — an extra 13 minutes a game, started every single one as a sophomore — it’s clear that Mitchell had the trust of the coaching staff to do exactly what they needed and wanted from him on the defensive end of the court. By more than doubling his minutes, it’s no surprise that he more than doubled his steals production from his first year on campus, but that undersells what Mitchell accomplished. He turned in one of the 40 best steals rates in the country according to KenPom.com, and that was an improvement on his steal rate as a freshman...... AND Mitchell cranked up the pressure in Big East play, improving his 4.1% steal rate up to 5.0% against league foes, the best rate in the entire conference.
Is it a little reductive to just point at his steals and say “hey, look, the defending!” Sure, yeah, it is, but it does tell us that Mitchell is not only locking down the guy that he’s assigned to, but he’s also terminating possessions before shots even go in the air and he’s doing it better than anyone else in the Big East. That’s not nothing. Mitchell also cut down on his fouls per 40 minutes from his freshman year, and considering that he was playing more than twice as many minutes — it’s easier to accrue fouls when you’re on the court, y’know — that’s a really good sign of his development as a defender.
We can make an argument that Mitchell singlehandedly ended a game this season with his defense. Remember how National Marquette Day ended? The Golden Eagles had a 15 point lead with just under 10 minutes to go, but with 82 seconds to go, that lead was just six. After Kam Jones missed the front end of a set of free throws twice, Butler had the ball with 55 seconds to play, more than enough time to halve the lead and make that thing extremely interesting...... and Stevie Mitchell said not on his watch.
During our interview last week Tyler Kolek spoke about bringing intensity to practice,— Ryan Cassidy (@ryancassidycbb) February 4, 2023
"This year that guy is Stevie Mitchell... he's just a winning guy with all the things that he does"
Late in the game against Butler those winning habits showed up pic.twitter.com/tnubQARkwj
He closes out on Simas Lukosius to deny him any good opportunities to do anything and spurs his drive straight into Oso Ighodaro to cut it off and that forces a bailout to Jayden Taylor.... but Mitchell is already in Taylor’s business by the time he gets set with the ball. He attempts a drive and a pull up jumper, but Mitchell’s in his kitchen and knocks it free on the way up, so Taylor just throws it out of there to Manny Bates who came up to set a screen but had to zip outta there when Taylor spun towards him. Except Mitchell’s on top of that, too, and tips the pass away from Bates as it arrives. That leaves Butler’s starting center and his one three-point attempt on the season standing on the center court logo with seven seconds left on the shot clock and Mitchell pressing on him. He tosses it to Ali Ali, and Tyler Kolek is more than happy to let a 26% three-point shooter launch it from the Fiserv Forum logo, and it hits nothing but backboard and lands in Ighodaro’s hands. It’s all maybe the meanest defensive possession of the season by a single Marquette player.
It’s really good news that Mitchell had such a good year on the defensive end of the court because hooooooboy, he was not having a fun time on offense. When he got to the rim, things were great, and that did happen a lot. Just over half of his shots on the year were there, and he shot nearly 63% according to Hoop Math. Can’t beat that, and that’s a big explanation as to how Mitchell finished #13 in the Big East in two-point shooting percentage even though he only stands 6’2”. Everything else? Blech. Hoop Math has him at just 27% on shots labeled two-point jumpers — aka shots that Shaka Smart and Nevada Smith don’t want the team taking anyway — and Mitchell hit just 30% of his long range attempts. That’s well off his pace of 35% from his freshman year, and things got worse as the games picked up. Mitchell shot just 24% against what KenPom.com adjusts to top 100 opponents and just 27% behind the arc against top 50 foes.
The really bad part of that is that he was totally fine to start the year. Mitchell started the year with at least one made three in each of MU’s first seven games and was hitting 35% of all of his attempts, and after 17 games, he was sitting on a 33% shooting percentage beyond the arc. Given the shooting seasons that his teammates were having — Tyler Kolek, Kam Jones, and David Joplin all finished north of 36% for the campaign with Kolek and Joplin just barely falling short of the 40% barrier — running right along that efficiency break even point of 33% is absolutely A-OK. That makes teams take you seriously and it gives everyone else an extra fraction of a second to shoot open shots. After that, from Marquette’s home win against Connecticut thru the end of the season, the final 19 games of the year, Mitchell connected on just 25.8% of his attempts.
We can debate whether it’s good or bad that Mitchell seemed completely aware that he was struggling with his shot. Good: Don’t shoot shots that you’re not comfortable with. Bad: If defenses know you won’t shoot, it changes how they defend you. Mitchell had five games out of those final 19 where he didn’t let a single shot fly from beyond the arc and another five where he only shot it once. To be clear: Mitchell’s role on the team was not to be a scorer, so perhaps this isn’t that big of a deal... but also the offense that Marquette runs is somewhat dependent on a free flowing ball movement to the open shooter, and that shooter has to be ready to shoot it. It might not be a coincidence that Marquette’s offense started to go through some hard times relative to what they had been doing — go over to BartTorvik.com and look at the Adjusted Offense trend line — once Mitchell maaaaaaaybe started to get the yips regarding his shot.
Even with a downturn in his shooting, Mitchell still had a very good year in terms of efficiency on the offensive end. A big reason why? His ability to redefine who had the ball when he was playing defense translated into a surehanded player on the offensive end. Mitchell cut his turnover rate from his freshman year nearly in half, going from 21.4% of his usage ending with it going the other way to just 11.2% in 2022-23. That’s top 180 in the country per KenPom.com and he was absurdly great in Big East play. Mitchell had the second best turnover rate in league action amongst all players at just 9.9%. That’s practically microscopic, all things considered. Marquette was one of the best possession-minded teams in the country this season, and that was a big part of of their ability to score seemingly at will at times. While no one was counting on Mitchell to put up points, the fact that he kept the ball under control when he was passing or dribbling was a big part of why that was the case.
Last thing that we have to note, because we brought it up in his preview: Mitchell’s free throw shooting was totally fine at a rate of a little short of two per game. He knocked in 75% of his attempts, just short of 77% against Big East opponents, and over 78% against KenPom.com top 100 teams. Cool, good, thumbs ups all around.
Oh, this is easy. It’s the road trip to Villanova on New Year’s Eve. Mitchell finished with a season high 19 points along with two rebounds, two assists, and four steals as well as KenPom.com MVP honors, but that doesn’t tell the story. He carried Marquette to start the game off, firing in eight of MU’s first 12 points to keep pace with the Wildcats early, then scored on back-to-back possessions late in the half to make it a three point deficit for MU. Nova scored the first four points out of the locker room to go up nine, but Mitchell scored the first seven MU points after halftime to singlehandedly drag the Golden Eagles back into the game. On top of that, Mitchell ended up making some very smart defensive plays in the final seconds when Marquette wasn’t in the bonus and was holding a two point lead. He made sure to let the Wildcats inbound it and then foul just to make sure that the clock started running and time started peeling away. Three straight inbounds, four seconds fading into the ether. It fouled him out of the game, mind you, and you really don’t want to see your most trustworthy defender disappear for the final and possibly game deciding possession, but hey, Kyle Neptune drew up “let Eric Dixon dribble and shoot a mid-range fadeaway” as his game winning play, so it all worked out.
This seems pretty straight forward, honestly. Mitchell was going to be asked to defend, and he was one of the best. He needed to keep his turnovers under control as he started playing more minutes, and that was clearly the case. He needed to start hitting freebies at a respectable rate, and he did. Shaka Smart made a big deal about being a star in your role this season, and Mitchell’s role was doing all of that stuff. Combine all of that with the fact that Mitchell beat out the T-Rank projections for his season, and I’m inclined to give him a 9 for a season that I think we can safely say was better than we were hoping to see from him. But his shooting was a legitimate concern in the back half of the season, and we have to take that into account, right? I take no joy in docking him a point for that, but grading him at an 8 is still a very good season and one that truly enjoyed watching from him.