Derrick Walton Jr. is Coming Into His Own at Michigan

Posted by Deepak Jayanti (@dee_b1g) on February 15th, 2014

During the era of super freshmen in college basketball, we rarely try to understand how much they can grow over the course of the season. After all, 18- and 19-year-olds will take some time to adjust to the tempo and athleticism of the game. With Jabari Parker, Andrew Wiggins, Julius Randle and Tyler Ennis dominating the headlines with their regularly impressive performances, it is easy to forget about some of the other freshmen who have stepped up their games during conference play after an initial period of adjustment. Derrick Walton Jr., Michigan’s rookie point guard, is one such example. Forget filling Trey Burke’s shoes in the Michigan offense; Walton doesn’t need to be the same player. But he has shown glimpses of his ability to run the team in recent weeks, averaging a solid 10.6 PPG and 4.o APG in the Wolverines’ last five games. We wrote back in November about the need for Nik Stauskas to step up as the lead guard because the offense was flailing during the non-conference season, but Walton now appears to be firmly in control as the primary initiator of the offense and a sparkplug in the open court.

Derrick Walton Jr. has been impressive during the past two weeks. (credit:

Derrick Walton Jr. (left) has been impressive during the past two weeks. (credit:

Before we begin to understand his growth as a player, it is essential to recognize that Walton is a talented scorer, and compared to Burke, he actually has a quicker release on his jumper. Shooting 40 percent from long range is not too shabby, but the main difference with Burke is that he likes to be set up for shots instead of creating them off the dribble. The most impressive part of his game is his ability to get to the basket off of screens. He’s always had great talent, but it has taken him a while to understand his role in the offense considering the strengths and versatility of Michigan’s wings, Stauskas and Caris LeVert.

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Big Ten M5: 02.10.14 Edition

Posted by Deepak Jayanti (@dee_b1g) on February 10th, 2014


  1. Spartan fans barely had any time to enjoy Adreian Payne’s return, when they got the news that point guard, Keith Appling, will be out for a “couple of weeks.” Backup point guard, Travis Trice, stepped up against Wisconsin by scoring 13 points and hitting a clutch three-pointer during the final minute of the game. Trice’s offense ought to be adequate as long as Gary Harris doesn’t go through a cold shooting slump, but Appling’s health could be concern if he doesn’t come back after two to three weeks because his experience will be pivotal for the Spartans in March.
  2. Speaking of adequate offense, Ohio State‘s struggles with regards to scoring have been well-documented, but when they do put up points in the 60s, they are a tough team to beat. Stating the obvious, when the the “shots fall,” they are an excellent team because their defensive intensity goes up by that much more. Over the past week, Lenzelle Smith Jr. has averaged 14 points per game against Iowa and Purdue, as the Buckeyes are trying to make their way back into the top-25 rankings. Smith is certainly the wildcard because LaQuinton Ross’ 14.2 points per game will need a consistent complement over the next six weeks as Thad Matta’s team hopes to return to the Sweet 16 again in the NCAAs.
  3. Not sure if you have heard, but Michigan’s Nik Stauskas is the team’s best offensive player and the Big Ten defenses have decided to lock him down and force other Wolverines to beat them. Over hte past three games, Stauskas’ has barely averaged 9 points per game because defenses are double-teaming him all over the perimeter, forcing him to pass the ball to the open man on the weak side. Against Iowa, the defensive intensity caused him to turn the ball over four times and he ended up with zero assists. The last three games are not just an anomaly because every team, especially in the NCAAs, will try to force Stauskas to give up the ball, which will not only test his passing abilities but also test Caris Levert and Glenn Robinson’s ability to hit the clutch shots during the final minutes of the game.
  4. More on Iowa‘s defensive intensity, they did not waste any time trying to establish a lead over the Wolverines and were able to shut down Nik Stauskas for most of the game. Their depth on the roster is a strength on the offensive side but can be even more valuable on the defensive end because they can use fresh legs, specifically in the frontcourt, because Melsahn Basabe, Gabriel Olaseni, and Adam Woodbury are formidable defenders in the paint. Roy Devyn Marble, has stepped up defensively too, by guarding Stuaskas for most of the game. Saturday’s win may be a turning point for the Hawkeyes as they continue to gain confidence about their ability to compete with the top teams in the country.
  5. Continuing on the defensive theme, Indiana can’t seem to be get stops when they need to, over the past two weeks. Ten days ago, they lost to the Huskers and they couldn’t hold onto a lead against Minnesota over the weekend either – mainly because of a lackluster defensive effort. “We had some awareness issues at the end of possessions,” Tom Crean said, referring to a handful of defensive breakdowns late in the shot clock Saturday. Crean’s team is technically still on the bubble, but will need to defend, especially against the middle-of-the-pack teams such as Penn State, Purdue or Nebraska.
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Award Tour: Doug McDermott Blowing Away the NPOY Competition

Posted by Jameson Fleming on January 31st, 2014


Jameson Fleming is an RTC columnist who also works for as the site’s social media editor. You can follow him on Twitter @JamesonFleming.

Michigan State was so close to landing a player in this week’s Award Tour rankings, but Gary Harris struggled in a loss to Michigan. His day will come… eventually. Providence’s Bryce Cotton and Ed Cooley are also very close to making their debuts on the watch lists as well. Cotton is an ironman who has carried the Friars after taking over as the point guard, while Cooley has kept the team moving forward after a rough start to conference play. Andrew Wiggins is quickly turning into the player everyone expected before the season — he was never bad or mediocre, just not a stud – until now. After 27 points against TCU and 29 more against Iowa State, Maple Jordan is rounding into form as Kansas’ second Big 12 Player of the Year candidate. Pitt’s Lamar Patterson struggled against Duke, but he’ll have several more chances in the coming weeks to prove he’s an ACC Player of the Year candidate.

Player of the Year

Thanks to some outstanding play of late, Justin Jackson (left), Xavier Thames, and Nick Stauskas are all in the POY discussion.

Thanks to some outstanding play of late, Justin Jackson (left), Xavier Thames, and Nick Stauskas are all in the POY discussion.

10. Justin Jackson – Cincinnati. Last Week: Not Ranked
2013-14 stats: 11.1 PPG, 7 RPG, 3.3 BPG, 107.5 oRTG

Justin Jackson isn’t going to wow anyone offensively. He can score a few buckets here and there, be a playmaker occasionally, and draw a lot of fouls. So why did he make the Player of the Year rankings? He’s a dominant defender and rebounder. Jackson is arguably the best player on a Cincinnati team that is now 20-2 with wins at Louisville, at Memphis, Pittsburgh and SMU. He’s the only player in the top 50 in the country in block AND steal rate according to KenPom, and his late steal against Louisville helped seal an impressive victory in the KFCYum! Center against the Cardinals.

9. Xavier Thames – San Diego State. Last Week: Not Ranked
2013-14 stats: 17.5 PPG, 2.7 APG, 121.6 oRTG

Xavier Thames has emerged as San Diego State’s top player after spending three years toiling in mediocrity thanks to poor shooting and turnovers. But as a senior, Thames has become a much more efficient scorer and distributor. He’s the main reason why the Aztecs could overcome huge personnel losses and improve from last year’s NCAA round of 32 squad.

8. Joel Embiid – Kansas. Last Week: 9
2013-14 stats: 11.3 PPG, 7.6 RPG, 2.7 BPG, 113.6 oRTG

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Big Ten M5: 01.30.14 Edition

Posted by Jonathan Batuello on January 30th, 2014


  1. Michigan State is obviously a better team with Adreian Payne on the floor. The big man had a realistic chance to win the Big Ten Player of the Year award given the way he started the season, but he hasn’t played in the Spartans’ last six games. With his pain still lingering, Tom Izzo has had to defend his cautious approach to playing his talented big man. It can’t be easy to see his team play without Payne, but let’s keep in mind that this Michigan State team has higher aspirations than just winning the conference. Going without him right now to avoid further aggravation of the injury seems well worth it if Payne will be (hopefully) 100 percent come NCAA Tournament time.
  2. Yogi Ferrell has been impressive. The Indiana sophomore went from role player to star and has seen his scoring shoot up quite a bit this season. His ability to stay at that level as Big Ten play wears on is just as important if Indiana is to go from bubble team back to the NCAA Tournament. Ferrell is the clear leader of a young team and has done admirably in guiding an up-and-down Hoosiers squad. He is also the only player who can routinely hit outside shots to help open things up for Noah Vonleh inside. With a softer part of the schedule coming up for Indiana, look for Ferrell to really dominate.
  3. It wasn’t the player who we thought would be the dominant one for Michigan. In fact, he wasn’t even one of the two players expected to be the star for the Wolverines. Yet, Nik Stauskas is learning to adjust on the fly to becoming the opponent’s top defensive focus. The strategies to try and stop him have almost all been ineffective, as Stauskas is the biggest reason Michigan has gone from what appeared to be a lost season with the Mitch McGary injury to sitting in first place by itself nearly halfway through conference play. It’s been an impressive run and one Stauskas will need to continue if his team is to stay on top .
  4. It doesn’t get much better than how Iowa had it coming into Tuesday night’s game against Michigan State. The Spartans were without Payne and wing player Branden Dawson. It was in front of a sold out and raucous home crowd. Yet Iowa could not close the deal, and the loss represents a huge blown opportunity. The defeat really sets the Hawkeyes back now, because Fran McCaffery’s group dropped to three games back of first place as result. It’s no wonder the head coach called them out for not being tough enough. If they are going to have any shot at winning the Big Ten title, they can’t afford any more home losses this season.
  5. It is never an easy decision for a coach when a player picks up multiple early fouls. In the last two games, Wisconsin’s Bo Ryan has had to deal with this decision regarding his interior star, Frank Kaminsky. If the decision were up to Kaminsky, he’d stay in the game despite the foul trouble. It is no surprise to hear a player wants to play no matter the circumstance, but the key issue in these coaching decisions is always the game situation. In the Badgers’ last game against Purdue, Wisconsin was able to utilize an offense/defense substitution pattern with Kaminsky. It also helped that the team never trailed so it never became imminent to have its better offensive player in the game. It will be interesting to see what happens when Kaminsky is in foul trouble, though, and the Badgers are losing.
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Otskey’s Observations: Episode X

Posted by Brian Otskey (@botskey) on January 29th, 2014

Each week throughout the season, RTC columnist Brian Otskey (@botskey) will run down his observations from the previous week of college basketball.

Michigan Proving the Doubters Wrong

No team in America had a better month of January than the Michigan Wolverines. Since the calendar flipped to 2014, Michigan has reeled off seven consecutive wins to start Big Ten play and has won nine straight since a two-point home loss to No. 1 Arizona on December 14. Of those seven wins, an astounding four have come on the road in ridiculously tough environments. Seriously, who wins at Minnesota, Nebraska, Wisconsin and Michigan State in just over a three-week span? Michigan has established itself as a Big Ten contender with a pretty favorable schedule the rest of the way. How have the Wolverines done it? Offense. Believe it or not, Michigan’s 2013-14 adjusted offensive efficiency is greater than the number posted by last year’s Trey Burke-led squad that reached the national championship game. A lot of that can be attributed to the increase in fouls called this season, but it is impressive nonetheless. The Wolverines are shooting the ball fantastically, putting up at least 71 points in all but one of their Big Ten games. Derrick Walton Jr.’s growth has been fun to watch, encapsulated in the and-one that essentially won the game at Michigan State last Saturday. Nik Stauskas’ game speaks for itself and he should be in the running for the National Player of the Year award. Yes, national. (Side note: I love how a guy like Stauskas can back up his trash talk and swag with his game on the court. There are some guys who just run their mouths for the heck of it but Stauskas actually backs it up on the floor. I have no problem with that whatsoever.) Glenn Robinson III has emerged as a steady presence and a fairly reliable scorer behind Stauskas, something that needed to happen for Michigan to take the next step.

Nik Stauskas is leading the way for the red-hot Michigan offense. (USA TODAY Sports)

Nik Stauskas is leading the way for the red-hot Michigan offense. (USA TODAY Sports)

I am a bit concerned about Michigan’s defense which is allowing an adjusted 105.3 points per 100 possessions in Big Ten play, good for eighth in a 12-team league. The Wolverines’ interior defense is not good at all and that’s the place where they miss Mitch McGary the most. That said, all the talk about McGary having such a negative effect on this team was a bunch of hot air from the media who became obsessed with him after last year’s NCAA Tournament. The fact is McGary bogged down Michigan’s offense (without Trey Burke feeding him) in addition to being not 100 percent healthy. We’ve seen the results without him and you cannot tell me Michigan isn’t better. Michigan has been criminally underrated all year long because of the McGary injury combined with a few close losses to very good teams. May I remind you of what I wrote in this very column a week before Christmas. Michigan has always been a factor and it has hit its stride against a strong schedule. The Wolverines are here to stay but really, they never went anywhere. Michigan has been at least top 20 good all year long, now it is a top 10 caliber team.

Do Not Sleep on Louisville

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Big Ten Weekend in Review: Injuries Catch Up with Contenders

Posted by Brendan Brody on January 27th, 2014

It’s been enough of an ordeal for Michigan State to try to win B1G games and stay in the top five of the national polls without injured superstar Adreian Payne. The combination of Payne and Branden Dawson (broken hand) out of the lineup, coupled with a scorching hot Michigan team, led to the Spartans’ first conference loss on Saturday evening. Meanwhile Nebraska proved that it is going to be a tough out any time teams have to travel to Lincoln this season. The Cornhuskers moved to 9-1 at home with their Sunday night win over a Minnesota squad playing its first game without an injured Andre Hollins (ankle). Despite the loss, Malik Smith stepped in for Hollins and put up 29 points on 8-of-12 shooting from behind the arc. Here arethe rest of the peaks and valleys from weekend number four of Big Ten play.

Terran Petteway put up 35 points in Nebraska's upset win over Minnesota Sunday night. (AP)

Terran Petteway put up 35 points in Nebraska’s upset win over Minnesota Sunday night. (AP)

Player of the Weekend: Terran Petteway: The season Petteway is getting greatly overlooked due to Nebraska’s mediocre record. The transfer from Texas Tech has been getting buckets in a variety of ways all season long, and this was fully evident over the weekend against the Gophers. He went for a career-high 35 points, shooting 10-of-15 from the field, including 4-of-6 from three, six boards, three assists, a steal and a block. Minnesota had no answer for him, as he continually burned the Gophers from deep and by getting into the lane whenever he wanted. Nebraska has a nice core to build around for future years, and Petteway has the chance to be at the forefront of this renaissance.

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Key Questions Heading into Michigan vs. Michigan State Today

Posted by Brendan Brody & Alex Moscoso on January 25th, 2014

Well, this is it. The final two undefeated teams in conference play will go head-to-head tonight in East Lansing. The Spartans will have the advantage of playing in the raucous Breslin Center, but they’ll be shorthanded since both Adreian Payne and Branden Dawson are expected to miss the game. Michigan, on the other hand, doesn’t have Mitch McGary to man the post, but Nik Stauskus has been red hot offensively and the team appear to have moved on from its early season troubles. Two of our Big Ten microsite writers, Brendan Brody and Alex Moscoso, tackle the big questions headed into the game.

All eyes are on the Big Ten this weekend, as Michigan and Michigan State face off for first place in the league.

All eyes are on the Big Ten this weekend, as Michigan and Michigan State face off for first place in the league.

Michigan State is a top 10 defensive unit but their two best defensive players (Dawson and Payne) are likely to be out for the game. Michigan, on the other hand, is an elite offensive team. Will the Spartans be able to slow down the Wolverines given their injuries?

BB: The Michigan offense has been really impressive lately, and Michigan State might have had problems slowing them down even with Dawson and Payne in uniform tonight. Without those two seeing action, I just don’t know how they can hinder the Wolverines from scoring essentially whenever they want. Stauskas has been the best player in the conference over the last several weeks, but this team has much more weaponry than their sophomore assassin to call upon. Caris LeVert and/or Glenn Robinson III should have a huge advantage as the Spartans are going to have to use either a small guard like Travis Trice or with some combination of Kenny Kaminski/Russell Byrd to defend them. Big men like Jordan Morgan and Jon Horford aren’t strong offensively, but everyone else that gets significant playing time can score the ball from a multitude of different spots on the floor. Unless they go into some horrific shooting funk where they can’t make anything, Michigan will not be slowed down offensively tonight.

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Who Won The Week? A Nebraska Sharpshooter, the Wolverines, & Rick Barnes…

Posted by Kenny Ocker on January 24th, 2014

Who Won the Week? is a regular column that will outline and discuss three winners and losers from the previous week. The author of this column is Kenny Ocker (@KennyOcker), a Spokane-based sportswriter best known for his willingness to drive (or bike!) anywhere to watch a basketball game. But he’s not biking anywhere with a sub-zero wind chill.

WINNER: Ethan Wragge

Creighton’s starting center/three-point assassin/reason why there’s no trees left in Nebraska had a performance for the ages Monday night at Villanova. The Wildcats thought it would be wise to double-team fellow Bluejay Doug McDermott – you know, the best player in college basketball – and left Wragge open. BAD. IDEA. Wragge came out and made his first seven three-pointers as the Jays shot the Wildcats to smithereens in a 96-68 game that was 90-50 before Greg McDermott’s team took its foot off the gas. Wragge wrapped up the game with 27 points on 9-of-14 three-point shooting, and also had the time to dish out three assists without a turnover. Creighton’s team stats from that game are almost as ridiculous as their bearded center’s: 33-of-58 shooting from the field, 21-of-31 from three-point range, 25 assists on the 33 made shots.

Ethan Wragge had a game to remember against Villanova. (AP)

Ethan Wragge had a game to remember against Villanova. (AP)

The Bluejays came into Monday night’s game ranked 13th  in Ken Pomeroy’s efficiency rankings and the Wildcats came in second. Because of Creighton’s ludicrous 1.4 points per possession against a team that had only given up more than a point per possession once in 17 games, the two teams flipped spots in the rankings, despite the college basketball season only half over. The difference between Creighton’s top-ranked offensive efficiency and Duke in second is equal to the difference between Duke and 16th-place Oregon. (Back to Wragge for a bit: Let’s just overlook Saturday’s eight-point performance in Creighton’s 81-68 loss versus Providence. He obviously had to save his three-pointers for a bigger game.)

(Related winners: Creighton; Providence, who also beat Butler on Tuesday; Doug McDermott, who still had 23 points despite the double-teams and the performance of Wragge. Related losers: Any voter who thought Creighton wasn’t worth ranking because of neutral-court losses to George Washington and San Diego State, and a road loss to a 14-5 Providence team; Villanova, for which there’s not enough ice left on the north pole to soothe its burns.) Read the rest of this entry »

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Morning Five: 01.24.14 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on January 24th, 2014


  1. Minnesota got some relatively good news yesterday when Andre Hollins was diagnosed with what has been described as a “severe ankle sprain” after x-rays and later a MRI on his left ankle came back negative. A “severe ankle sprain” might not sound like good news on the surface, but with the way Hollins went down it would not have been unreasonable to think he might have broken a bone or suffered significant ligament damage. Instead, Hollins will be evaluated daily according to the coaching staff and has not been ruled out of their game against Nebraska on Sunday. Given how easy the Gophers upcoming schedule is and how important Hollins is to the team it would seem like they would be more likely to give him more time to recover.
  2. At this point we are not sure if we are going to see this Michigan State team completely healthy the rest of this season. It seems like as soon as they are about to get back to full strength. The latest addition to the injury list is Branden Dawson, who broke a bone in his left hand after slamming it into a table during a film session. Dawson claims that he was upset at himself and in particular at comments that Dan Dakich had made about the team’s effort. The long bright spot for the Spartans with this injury is that Dawson is only expected to be out for 4-5 weeks, which means he should be back in time for March.
  3. Yesterday, the US Basketball Writers Association released its Oscar Robertson Trophy Midseason Watch List that features what the USBWA considers the top 23 players in the country. As you might expect this list is fairly similar to the one put out by the Wooden Award the day before. The one notable inclusion in this group is Xavier Thames, who has been putting up ridiculous advanced metric numbers, but has been largely ignored because he plays at San Diego State. Other than Thames the list also has most of the same snubs as the Wooden list and like the Wooden list it also does not eliminate players from postseason consideration for awards.
  4. Kentucky basketball tickets are among the most coveted in all of college basketball so it should come as no surprise that somebody is reportedly trying to make money off counterfeit tickets. According to reports, Lexington police are investigating a woman’s claim that she was sold counterfeit tickets to Tuesday night’s game against Texas A&M. Lexington police have already identified an individual that they would like to question about the case.
  5. We have no idea how this even became a controversy, but yesterday Nik Stauskas apologized for comments that his father made about Nik potentially turning pro after the season. Nik’s father, Paul, had recently told that there was a “really good possibility” that Nik might enter the NBA Draft after this season. At this point we would consider Stauskas as a borderline first round pick so while he might enter this year’s Draft it is too early for him to be thinking about it and way too early for him or his family to talk about it. While this is a different circumstance than the one that Russ Smith’s father put him in after the NCAA Championship Game it follows a similar pattern of a family member deciding to use some of his or her son’s fame to get a little bit of media attention too.
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Want to Win in the Big Ten? You’d Better Get Your Offense Right

Posted by Alex Moscoso (@AlexPMoscoso) on January 23rd, 2014

This isn’t your father’s offensively challenged but physical Big Ten. This year the league houses three of the top five efficient offenses in the nation (Iowa, Michigan, and Wisconsin). In fact, certain teams’ offenses, or obvious lack of offense, have challenged our preconceived notions of how the league might shake out over the next two months. Two weeks ago, I wrote that Ohio State, after its overtime to loss to Michigan State, still had a great shot to win the Big Ten title because of its soft conference schedule. On Monday night, the Buckeyes lost to perpetual bottom-dweller Nebraska, extending their losing streak to four games. Four weeks ago, Michigan looked dead in the water when news broke that center Mitch McGary would have season-ending back surgery. Last night, the Wolverines put on an offensive show in their defeat of Iowa by eight points in Ann Arbor. They now find themselves tied for first place with a 6-0 record in league play. Each team’s change of fortune can be explained through the evolution (or devolution) of their offense.

Shannon Scott hasn't been the offensive weapon the Buckeyes have hoped. And it may be costing them losses in the conference. (Sandra Dukes-USA TODAY Sports).

Shannon Scott hasn’t been an offensive option off the bench. And it may be costing them losses in the conference. (Sandra Dukes-USA TODAY Sports).

While physical play and strong defenses are still league constants, some teams are now surging due to their offensive prowess while others are sinking because of their offensive fecklessness. Take the case of Michigan, a team that has surprised the Big Ten with its undefeated record through the first third of conference play. The Wolverines racked up four losses in non-conference play, but their offense has hit another gear since. In the last five games, Michigan has not had an eFG rate below 58 percent and has averaged approximately 1.2 points per possession. Sophomores Nik Stauskas and Glenn Robinson III have led the way by averaging 34.8 PPG combined in those five games. Robinson has been especially surprising after his mediocre start to the season. On the flip side is the case of Ohio State. The Buckeyes have the best defense in the league by a significant margin, but at best a middle-of-the-road offense. The Buckeyes were hoping Shannon Scott would contribute in the scoring department off the bench, but that has not come to fruition. In their four consecutive losses, Scott is averaging a measly 4.0 PPG and Ohio State as a team has shot below 45 percent from the field in each of those games.

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