Analysis: Three keys for Mitchell girls to have success at the Class AA state tournament
If the Mitchell girls basketball team has proven one thing, it’s that nothing is a foregone conclusion.
MITCHELL — If the Mitchell girls basketball team has proven one thing, it’s that nothing is a foregone conclusion.
Even though the Kernels are the lowest seed in the Class AA state tournament, they’ve already pulled off one upset with their SoDak 16 win over Brandon Valley.
With Mitchell set to tip off its state tournament run at 1:45 p.m. Thursday at the Pentagon in Sioux Falls, here are a few keys for the Kernels to have success.
It sounds simple enough — If more shots go in for Mitchell, the Kernels have a better chance to win. At the end of the day, it is the most fundamental concept in the sport of basketball.
But when dissecting the six games prior to the win over Brandon Valley — and even all 21 games this season, really — it’s evident how crucial putting the ball in the basket is for Mitchell.
During the final six games of the regular season, all of which were losses, Mitchell didn’t crack 50 points once and failed to register 40 three times, shooting under 30% four times (against Aberdeen Central, Sioux Falls Washington, O’Gorman and Brandon Valley) and under 40% in all six games.
All season, coach Dave Brooks has pointed to 50 points as a benchmark of where he’d like to see his team reach to have a good chance to win the game, and the numbers back it up. When the Kernels have scored at least 50 points in a game this season, they’re 6-0. In the 15 games they didn’t reach 50, they’re 3-12, and they’re 0-6 in games where they didn’t crack 40 points.
“We can play the best defense in the world and run the best offense,” Brooks said prior to the SoDak 16 game against Brandon Valley, “but if we’re not making shots, it’s a long night.”
Limiting turnovers comes in two forms.
The first comes while bringing the ball up the court against a full-court press.
With Sioux Falls Jefferson in the first round, Mitchell will have its hands full with a fast team that plays aggressive defense. The first time the two squads met on Jan. 31, at the Corn Palace, the Cavaliers forced three shot clock violations.
The Kernels have seen a full-court press against most teams this season, and it’s an area they’ve improved on but are still working to get better at.
“We worked on press break again (Monday) in practice and the kids kind of said, ‘We’ve seen it for 20 games, coach.’ I go, ‘I know, I just want to make sure we’re prepared,’” Brooks said Tuesday. “I sleep a lot better knowing we’re OK with it. It still can always be better.”
Brooks said he emphasized poise to his team, telling his players not to rush in the backcourt and remember there are 10 seconds to get the ball over the timeline and adding he’d rather have a 10-second violation as opposed to a live-ball turnover that results in a fastbreak layup going the other way.
Against Brandon Valley, breaking the press showed up at the end of the game, as the Lynx tried to trap the Kernels in the backcourt. But when Mitchell needed to most, it broke the press, got across halfcourt and forced Brandon Valley to foul in order to stop the clock.
“We just had to break the press. That’s what we struggled with the most all year,” Sawyer Stoebner said following the win over Brandon Valley. “That was the biggest thing was just breaking (the press) and then I feel like we could do whatever on this side (of the court) as long as we took care of the ball.”
After getting it across halfcourt, though, limiting turnovers in the half-court offense will be a key element during the trio of games in Sioux Falls.
“We’ve averaged close to 20 (turnovers) this year,” Brooks said. “We always kind of shoot for 15 or less. So I think that’s important.”
Keep it close
All season, Mitchell has shown an ability to hang with some of the best teams in Class AA. But time and again — before the SoDak 16, anyway — those tight games would slip away from the Kernels and turn into double-digit losses.
Against Jefferson, it happened in the first quarter, with the Cavaliers building a 15-point lead after the first eight minutes. Against other teams, it happened in the second half, where a two-possession game would quickly devolve into a double-digit lead for the opposition.
In Brandon during the SoDak 16, though, the Lynx went up 2-0 and never led again.
“We’ve had some mistakes that let an eight-point lead go to a 15-point lead,” Brooks said of prior games after the win against Brandon Valley. “We were able to get the lead and hang in there, and so I think it was easier to believe that we can beat this team because we were playing from the front. … It’s a little different when you got to make up eight against a good team than if you’re up two or three.”
Before the game against the Lynx, Brooks said the pressure would fall more on the Brandon Valley shooters than on the Kernel shooters in a tight game. That will likely be the case for the other seven teams in the tournament should they find themselves in a close game with the Kernels, given Mitchell will be playing the underdog role over the three-day stretch.
But making sure no team gets too far away from Mitchell is going to be paramount at the tournament.
“It’d be huge because we’re not an offensive-firepower team,” Brooks said Tuesday of not falling behind early. “If we get down early, yeah, we can hit some shots, but then we’ve got to get some stops. … If somebody gets out and runs away from us I’ll use those timeouts. We’ll do whatever we can to kind of change things up a little bit.”