Under John Beilein, Michigan has gone as far as their point guards have taken them. Darius Morris was talented and able to get the Wolverines into the NCAA Tournament and win a game, Trey Burke was even better and took them to the title game, while being the best player in the country. Derrick Walton, Michigan’s precocious freshman point guard, has been improving after being up and down for much of the season. It is safe to say that Michigan will go as far as Walton takes them in March.
The most impressive performance coming out of Michigan’s first win in Columbus in 11 years belonged to the Walton. He stuffed the stat sheet with 13 points, 10 rebounds and 6 assists on Tuesday. He even outplayed Ohio demi-god Aaron Craft—and it wasn’t even close. Walton was the one who looked like a senior leader, playing with poise when the game was hectic late. Any Michigan fan watching the game wanted the freshman to have the ball in his hands on big possessions in the second half, as Walton was just oozing with a mix of confidence and determination. It just isn’t fair to compare Walton to Burke, but against Ohio State, Walton’s performance bore a striking resemblance to the 2013 Wooden Award winner.
After being inconsistent during the non-conference slate, showing flashes of brilliance between stretches of inexperience, Walton has turned it around in Big Ten play. He has gained more confidence and it is visible, going from tentative with the ball to a determined player. The results have been Walton scoring in double figures in seven Big Ten games and Michigan’s offense averaging 72 points per game and a conference high .494 FG% in Big Ten play.
Michigan’s offense has been prolific, with weapons like Nik Stauskas, Glenn Robinson III, Caris Levert and Zak Irvin all able to score in bunches, but when Walton is creating and distributing the ball well, the offense is at another level.
Michigan is talented enough to go deep into the tournament this year. But when things get hectic and shots stop falling (and this happens to every team at some point), they’re going to need a dependable point guard who can be trusted to settle things down and make the right play. Trey Burke was that guy last season and Walton is showing that he has the potential to do that this year.
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