Damned Twitter embed:
As Michigan moves into the fourth year of the Derrick Walton / Zak Irvin partnership, we have a pretty good idea of what to expect from the two. They were both high-priority and well-regarded recruits (Irvin was slightly higher in the rankings) and were key rotation pieces as freshmen – Walton started and played more, Irvin was a deadly shooter off the bench – on an elite team. Derrick’s sophomore season was ruined by injury, and Zak eventually recovered from early-season struggles to show signs of a developing all-around game as he became the focal point for Michigan’s offense. Irvin was the injured one during the beginning of his junior year (and it wrecked his jumper for a time) but continued to show the same pick-and-roll gravitas of other former Michigan wings, and Walton improved his offensive rating by 10 from his sophomore to junior years on the same level of usage.
After the LeVert injury, we saw what it was like with Zak and Derrick as 1A and 1B for Michigan, a role that they were always destined to have as upperclassmen at Michigan. Though each player’s development tracks took some sideways turns, they were ready enough, as their 22 games in charge went okay: 12-10, kept their heads above water enough in conference play to get a huge upset over Indiana in the Big Ten Tournament to make it into the NCAA’s by the skin of their teeth after a lackluster non-conference season. Sure, it was a largely disappointing season that was marred by the losses of Caris and Spike (and several home blowout losses), but ultimately Michigan did avoid the dishonor of the NIT.
Walton was critical in making that happen. He’s a unique player, the rare 3-and-D point guard. His two-point shooting has been very poor over the last two seasons, but he makes up for it by shooting well from the free throw line and taking half of his shot attempts from behind the arc, where he hits a very respectable 39%. Derrick’s good in the pick-and-roll, but is best when he’s kicking it to shooters, as he doesn’t have the size to get great angles for dump-offs to the big man or to finish at the rim himself.
Defensively, he’s the best on a bad team – in some games locking up offensively potent guards, in some getting blown by routinely by lesser players. Walton’s steal rate was the best on the team by a sizable margin. His defensive rebounding (a unique skill, the basketball thing he’s probably best at, despite his size) propped up Michigan’s defense in ways poorly understood by the box score, and his defensive impact is probably underrated in that regard.
[More after the JUMP]
Despite losing star guard Caris LeVert for a month due to injury, Michigan currently sits in fourth place at 7-2 in the Big Ten; after a so-so non-conference showing, the Wolverines’ strong start to conference play has allayed any concerns about missing the NCAA Tournament. Still, there’s a lack of clarity with this team – even disregarding the uncertainty regarding LeVert’s return and ability to quickly and seamlessly reintegrate into the lineup.
With the notable exception of the win over Maryland, Michigan still is essentially a team that’s beaten the teams they should’ve beaten and lost to the teams they should’ve lost to (two neutral site games, UConn (loss) and Texas (win), were the only two against opponents close to U-M in Ken Pomeroy’s ratings). For the most part, the Wolverines’ wins in the Big Ten have been rather pedestrian: Rutgers and Minnesota were uninspiring home victories over terrible teams, sweeping Penn State isn’t a notable resume event, and the road wins in Big Ten play – over Illinois and Nebraska – were against teams that will surely miss the NCAA’s.
Still, between that win over the Terrapins, the complete lack of bad losses, and the tantalizing potential of adding an All-American level player to a team that’s already playing pretty well, there’s reason to hope that Michigan can round into a formidable squad heading into postseason play. The schedule from here on out in the Big Ten is undeniably harder – starting this week with home contests against Indiana and Michigan State. After Michigan’s solid start to the conference season, there are a few things we can point to as pretty important moving forward:
[After the jump, those things]
Derrick Walton will be on BTN's "The Journey" Saturday night, rougly 8PM ET after the b-ball game against Minnesota, so if you're recording the game, add an hour. Repeats at 9PM and 10PM ET may be delayed by how much the game goes over 2 hrs.
There are also repeats Sunday morning at 1:30AM, 2:30AM, & 3:30AM ET which might be on time, if they cut the 11PM repeat of the game to fit the 2-hr window.
Profile on Michigan's Derrick Walton who has tackled the task of filling Trey Burke's shoes, see the special bond between Iowa head coach Fran McCaffery and his brother, & why Indiana basketball plays such a big role in John Mellencamp's life. Plus game highlights from Wisconsin/Iowa and MSU/Michigan.
John Mellencamp?!?! Um, OK, then...
Sweep the Spartans!
My family and I were at the Georgia World Congress Center Friday enjoying the Final Four festivities of Bracket Town, when we ran into two future Wolverines in Michigan's Mr. Basketball runner-up Derrick Walton and Indiana Mr. Basketball winner Zak Irvin who apparently were in town for a high school three point competition. I happen to notice them fairly quickly and proceeded to congratulate them on their respective successes and also expressed how excited I was that the two will be attending Michigan in the fall. They were humble and respectful and very accommodating when I ask for the two of them to take a picture with me. Talking to them, they seem like two really great young men and guys who Michigan fans will be proud to call their own. Coach Beilein has done a fantastic job of recruiting guys like Zak and Derrick who are not only talented individuals, but great representatives of the university as well, to bring Michigan back to the forefront of college basketball. With young men like these two, along with the others, Michigan will remain among the elite for years to come.
Now one thing that struck me was the size of Derrick Walton who most recruiting sites estimate to be 6-0. Well I am a legit 6-3 and as you all can see, he is closer to my height than not. So he is at least 6-1 or better. Zak Irvin however is a legit 6-7, and when he hits them weights, he is going to be a beast.Now considering I missed the opportunity to attend the teams pep rally held at the Renaissance Waverly Hotel in Smyrna, and according to my brother who did attend, meet Fab Fiver Jimmy King, I thought meeting the future of Michigan basketball was a great consolation, and definitely grounds for my very own "cool story bro". Needless to say, my family and I had a blast! We sang "Hail To The Victors" with the team after the shoot around and from what I can tell Michigan is well represented in the Atl for this monumental event. You all should be proud. Thanks for letting me share, and let's hope they take care of business vs Syracuse today. Go Blue!