Michigan wouldn't have beaten Michigan State in East Lansing Saturday night without Derrick Walton, Jr., who played despite being in recovery from the flu (and didn't say a word about his illness). Head coach John Beilein has seen great progress from his freshman point guard and sees even better days ahead.
Walton, Jr. didn't see much time against Iowa, but he scored a career-high 19 in the win over the Spartans, U-M's third over a top 10 team in as many tries.
"It was a good week for us," Beilein said. "We played some really good teams. Going way back to going to Wisconsin, having a very good Wisconsin team, a very good Iowa team and then going up and playing at Michigan State, it was very good to get the wins, but we also know we've only played seven games in the league season. There are 11 to go, so we've got to keep working."
It's not what's behind them, Beilein added, but what's in front of them that matters, starting with Thursday night's game against Purdue. Here are news and views on Beilein's comments.
News: Walton, Jr. was the difference maker many thought he could be in his first year, playing a nearly flawless floor game and going 9-for-10 from the free throw line.
Beilein: "I think any freshman point guard, if he's that good that he doesn't have tremendous growth in that freshman year, is too good. It's incredible what they have to go through between spending the entire summer on campus, all the weight training, all the film sessions. There's no way high schools can put them through that, or AAU.
"Now it's all thrown at them and all of a sudden you're a starting point guard. He's been really good at just taking it day-to-day, saying, 'I made a lot of mistakes today, coach, but I'm going to better tomorrow' - that type of attitude. It's shown sometimes that he's really gaining confidence. It's also shown on some occasions that he still is learning. At any rate, he has a chance to be a great leader and quarterback for this team for a very long time."
Views: The game in East Lansing was the ultimate test, one many of the Wolverines' in-state talents have failed in the last decade or so. Walton proved he was up to the challenge in his first test.
To do it in that venue, there's no reason to believe he won't continue to improve and be able to do it on an even bigger stage in the NCAA Tournament. There's also no reason to doubt that he can be the starting point guard on a Big Ten championship team.
It doesn't hurt, either, when he's got a guy like sophomore Spike Albrecht to learn from. Albrecht's seven-assist, no turnover game against Iowa was critical, and he'd still be turnover free in conference play if the officials had given him a timeout when he called for one at MSU.
"At the end of practices, those last 20 minutes of practice are generally some type of scrimmage. It's usually our Blue team, which is our first team - there might be eight of those guys on the team," Beilein said. "So he will stand on the sideline and coach Derrick every minute through that.
"When he comes into the game Derrick gets his rest, or we'll put the two of them together. Spike has a good understanding of our system and he's been real helpful to Derrick."
News: Purdue is up next for the Wolverines, and the Boilermakers have been better on the road than at home.
Beilein: "I always look at road records, and I know if anybody can go to Morgantown [West Virgina] and win, they have a heck of a team. And then they went to Illinois and they won. Any of their other road games have been overtime or a three-point, buzzer-type game.
"We will never take any Purdue team lightly as long as Matt Painter is coaching there, I know they have a terrific team. This is a team I think is really on the rise with the talent he has, his coaching ability and his staff. We're going to have to play a great basketball team Thursday to get a victory."
Views: "Great" might be a stretch, but the Boilermakers are certainly capable. The Johnsons (Terone and Ronnie, guards who combine for 24 points per game) will get theirs, but when big man A.J. Hammons plays to his potential, that provides a potential match-up problem.
Unfortunately for the Boilers, he rarely does. There are no other consistent scorers on this squad, so if Michigan plays adequately on offense - and there's no reason to believe the Wolverines won't - they should win comfortably.