Four games into Big Ten play, four wins for the Wolverines who sit atop the conference as one of two remaining undefeated teams in Big Ten matchups. These four games have ushered in a new chapter for Michigan this season, which eagerly covets a long-awaited return to the Top 25 after a handful of debilitating losses. Through the first four Big Ten matchups, the Wolverines have exhibited a number of notable mannerisms, some positive, others not.
1. Jordan Morgan and Jon Horford can combine to be a frontcourt monster
Here’s a stat for you: Over the first four Big Ten games, Morgan and Horford have combined to average 17 points and 13 rebounds per game. That performance is essentially the equivalent of a stellar night from Mitch McGary, who is out indefinitely after undergoing back surgery. If John Beilein can continue to rely on Morgan and Horford as a viable backup combo to McGary, then the Wolverines should be able to contend with the tall trees of the Big Ten.
2. Derrick Walton is about as perfect of a Trey Burke replacement as could be
There was essentially one sentence that loomed over the head of Derrick Walton Jr. at the beginning of his freshman year: You’ve got some awfully big shoes to fill. The season following the departure of Naismith Award Winner and lottery pick Trey Burke was predestined for failure, based largely on the lack of Burke and team captain Tim Hardaway Jr. But if there has been one individual who has lived to refute the critics, it’s Derrick Walton Jr. Walton has transitioned into the role of starting point guard seamlessly, contributing an impressive amount of assists and rebounds, to go hand in hand with his lethal scoring ability. Walton has even gone so far as to sealing the win vs. Nebraska with a last-second layup.
3. Glenn Robinson III is playing like a superstar
How long can it last? GR3 has put forth the performance of his life since the start of Big Ten play. With his point average has climbing to almost 14 per game on over 50% field goal percentage, and while also contributing almost 5 rebounds per night, Robinson has emerged into the superstar that Michigan fans had hoped for upon the departure of Burke and Hardaway. Robinson needs to show that this level of play is maintainable, as his leadership is vital heading into Big Ten matchups.
4. Zak Irvin
I do not want to say something like “the time is ticking on Irvin” or “Irvin has completely underperformed” simply because he is a freshman and does not have the playing time to warrant such assumptive labels. But Irvin, a highly touted recruit, has failed to provide adequate help off the bench, tallying less than 7 points and 2 rebounds per game on roughly 16 minutes. Blame it on the playing time, blame it on the overwhelming nature of Big Ten basketball. But Zak Irvin has simply not been the freshman sensation that Michigan basketball had wanted. There is still time, of course, and I fully anticipate a strong maturation and development once he has the ability to assume a starting role. But until then, we are left with a five-star recruit whose major contribution is the occasional rebound or three.