Perhaps one of the biggest criticisms of the Arkansas coaching staff and head coach Eric Musselman this season came from fans frustrated with what the Hogs didn’t do in the offseason: grab another big man in the transfer portal.
The staff seemed more than fine with the returning frontcourt duo of Jalen Graham and Makhi Mitchell, a talented Trevon Brazile and one transfer addition in Chandler Lawson. When things went wrong early this season, the lack of paint presence seemed to be a legit reason. Many losses came in large part due to massive discrepancies in rebounding and allowing second chance points for Arkansas’ opponents’.
Since the start of the 2023-24 season, Arkansas has been out-rebounded in nine of its games against high major opponents, and it has out-rebounded opponents in just five of those games. Three of those five games that the Razorbacks have won the battle on the boards came during an incredible run for fifth-year senior Makhi Mitchell.
The 6-foot-10 forward has scored in double digits in four consecutive games for the Hoop Hogs, which marks the first time he has had such a stretch in his career. Points are great, and Mitchell has scored efficiently in multiple ways, but what has made his stretch of play even better are the stats outside of scoring.
He’s blocking shots at a high rate, facilitating the ball and rebounding at a high level, all while the offense is often running through him setting a ball screen at the top of the key. Most recently against Georgia on Saturday, Mitchell put up an impressive stat line of 14 points, five rebounds, three blocks and an assist in a 78-75 win, garnering praise from his head coach after the game.
“I thought he did a good job on (Georgia forward Russel Tchewa) in the second half,” Musselman said. “Khi’s defensive rebounding gives us stuff and obviously his 14 points… I thought his eight free throws attempted and then being able to convert six of them was extremely important, especially down the stretch in the second half.”
It wasn’t a one-off performance, though. Against Kentucky and Missouri, Mitchell put together back-to-back double-doubles, which Musselman acknowledged after the Razorbacks’ victory over the Tigers on Jan. 31.
“I think he’s practiced really hard, I think he’s been very focused,” Musselman said. “Especially the last 80 minutes of basketball. He’s had great practices, he’s had really good pre-practices. He’s had good post-practices. I think the last two games he’s had a different renewed focus. Which, when he plays like that, he’s as good as any center in the country the way that he’s played the last two games.”
Mitchell’s 19-point birthday performance at Missouri tied a career high, while he also added 14 rebounds, which tied for his second-most ever in a game.
All together, over the past four games Mitchell is averaging 13.8 points, 8.8 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 1.8 blocks per contest.
On top of that, he’s been very efficient, making 60.7% of his field goal attempts and shooting 80.8% from the free throw line. He’s shooting nearly seven free throws a game, as well, battling inside and displaying a level of physicality and tenacity that has not been present all season. It might have taken a little longer than many people hoped, but Mitchell has arrived this season.
“I know who I am,” Mitchell said Jan. 31. “I know what I’m capable of. I just go out there and try and do my best every game.”
Up next, the Razorbacks will host No. 6 Tennessee on Wednesday at 8 p.m. CT inside Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville. The game will be broadcast live on ESPN2.