During the last few days much had been made about the omission of Michigan guard Nik Stauskas from both the Wooden and Robertson award lists. Having raised his scoring average by some seven-plus points per game from last season, Stauskas has been the answer to who will grab the reins for the Wolverines offensively. That became even more important once Michigan lost Mitch McGary indefinitely due to a back injury, with Michigan needing to adjust to not having its’ most talented big man.
Since their two-point loss to current No. 1 Arizona the Wolverines haven’t lost, and on Saturday the picked up their ninth consecutive win in the form of a 80-75 victory at No. 3 Michigan State. Stauskas was his consistent self against the Spartans, scoring 19 points on 7-for-12 shooting despite some tough defense from Gary Harris for much of the night.
Stauskas, who’s averaged 18.7 points per game since Michigan lost McGary, has continued to be the leader for this group with options such as Caris LeVert also showing signs of improvement. But if any player’s performance against Michigan State is to be seen as a major step forward, it may be that of freshman guard Derrick Walton Jr.
Walton didn’t play much against Iowa due to a case of the flu but he played well in East Lansing, finishing the game with 19 points (4-for-6 FG, 9-for-10 FT), five rebounds, four assists and just one turnover. Prior to a quiet night in Michigan’s win over Wisconsin last Saturday Walton strung together three consecutive double-digit scoring games, and if he can build on his 19-point outing against Michigan State the Wolverines will be an even tougher team to slow down.
Saturday’s game was a matchup of team that have needed to make adjustments on the fly as they look to win the Big Ten and possibly a national title as well. Michigan’s made the needed adjustments, with Stauskas being the primary scoring option, LeVert stepping forward and veteran bigs Jon Horford and Jordan Morgan filling in for McGary.
But in order for Michigan to complete a journey that fell one win short last season they’re going to need Walton as well. Saturday night he was productive, proving to be one of the reasons why Michigan was able to pick up a big win on the road.