The Michigan Wolverines are scorching hot right now, and senior leader Derrick Walton Jr. is right at the forefront.
Walton and the Michigan Wolverines are fresh off completing a 92-91 victory over the Oklahoma State Cowboys in the first round on Thursday. They shot 16 for 29 from three, per Neil Best of Newsday. When a team has that kind of range and confidence, they’re a tough out for anybody in March Madness. That begins with their point guard Derrick Walton Jr. setting the tone, as he’s done all season long.
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The 6-0, 185-pound point man is the heart and soul of this Michigan ball club. He has put this team on his back, and his 26 points and 11 assists in that win over the Cowboys is just the latest reminder. He was the Big Ten Tournament’s MVP, and his ability to pick and choose when to attack and facilitate is the main reason for this recent humming Wolverines offense.
They had the fewest turnovers in the country this season (once again, according to Best). Walton has mastered coach John Beilein’s offense for much of his last campaign, and all the metrics demonstrate just how impressive a finale it’s been for him. Whenever there’s a big play that needs to be made in key moments, the Wolverines are looking to their leader.
It was that way in the Big Ten tourney as he took home the MVP. Walton was huge in leading the lowest-seeded team to win the Big Ten tournament (an 8-seed), according to mgoblue.com. If they can make a splash in March Madness, it will take the same kind of effort from him.
During the season, he averaged career-highs in points (15.5), assists (4.8), and in three-point shooting (42.3 percent). His net rating of 24.9 and player efficiency rating of 24.3 are nothing to sneeze at, either. The dude’s tenacity at both ends is infectious, and trust me it’s something I hate to see as a lifetime Ohio State fan. His game is for real, though.
Walton led the Big Ten Conference in offensive rating (128.7), offensive win shares (5.2) and offensive box plus/minus (9.0). Not to mention overall win shares as well (6.8). If this team can get more consistency out of his supporting cast in players like Zak Irvin, Moritz Wagner and swingman D.J. Wilson, they can beat anyone in the field — especially if they make over 50% of their threes.
This next matchup against the length and defensive pressure of the Louisville Cardinals is a tough test. However, if Walton and the squad get through that, watch out.
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