In many ways, the Michigan basketball team’s matchup against No. 3 Maryland has shades of a David v. Goliath matchup.
The Terrapins (4-0 Big Ten, 15-1 overall) are at the top of the heap in college basketball, and boast three NBA prospects in their starting lineup.
The Wolverines (2-1, 12-4), on the other hand, have three losses to top-25 teams by an average of 19 points, and will most likely play tomorrow’s game without Caris LeVert, likely their lone player with NBA upside.
All five of Michigan’s starters face an underdog matchup against their Maryland counterparts, but none of those matchups can swing the game’s result like Derrick Walton Jr.’s.
The junior guard will face Preseason Big Ten Player of the Year Melo Trimble, and though Trimble has two inches, nearly five points and two assists per game over Walton, Michigan’s guard has a propensity to take over a game on command.
“Today’s game is driven so much by a great point guard,” said Michigan coach John Beilein. “We obviously have to play a lot of attention to him.”
Added Walton: “I’m excited, it’s always exciting to get a chance to play another point guard that’s really good. I’m just going to do as much as I can to help my guys get the win, no matter the stats.”
Though battling a variety of minor injuries for much of the season, Trimble has remained one of the Terrapins’ top players statistically. The former McDonald’s All-American is currently averaging 14.8 points per game and boasts a 2.38 assist-turnover ratios.
But more frightening to Beilein than the stats is Trimble’s leadership and confidence. In Maryland’s recent last-second win at Wisconsin, Trimble hit the game-winning jumper as time expired with exceptional ease — a trait Michigan fans may remember Trey Burke possessing.
“He just comes down the court and there was no panic at all,” Beilein said. “It reminded me of a guy we had as well, just like ‘I guess I just have to win it now,’ and he just did it.”
Beilein also noted that like Burke, Trimble has plenty of talent around him, but the offense still runs through the guard.
In order to counter without LeVert, the Wolverines turn to their next-most experienced player — Walton, and Walton may be up to the task.
Walton has struggled early on in conference play, just 20% on twos and 50% on threes with 5 assists to 10 turnovers, but he has shown flashes of potential in his junior season. This is still the same 6-foot point guard who recorded a triple double in December and had 13 points and seven assists in a win over Texas.
As the hot hand falls on players such as Mark Donnal, Duncan Robinson and Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, Walton’s three-point shot has always been there. But at times, Walton has struggled to serve as that primary or secondary creator that the Wolverines need out of the point guard spot.
Now, Beilein wants to see more aggression out of his 6-foot01 guard.
“He’s always been a pass-first point guard, and that’s not a bad thing,” Beilein said. “But good game or bad game, he makes shots, and we want him to take shots.”
Michigan will be the underdog against Maryland, and Walton will be the underdog against Trimble. But a strong effort from Walton could mean big things for the Wolverines.
“It’s all about guarding your guy, and trying to minimize the things they do,” Walton said. “At the end of the day, if we win, I’m all for it.”