Most teams in Division I basketball go an entire season without a player recording a triple-double. Sure, players come close all the time, needing a rebound or an assist or two to complete the feat. Last week, Michigan completed this feat. Twice. It was against inferior competition, but recording a triple-double at any level is an incredibly impressive accomplishment.
First it was Caris LeVert, his wiry 6'7 frame flying across the court, dropping dimes to open shooters and slashing the lane for easy baskets. LeVert tried to force a few passes toward the end of the game, but recorded his tenth assist, followed by John Beilein pulling him to a roaring ovation at Crisler Center.
For Derrick Walton Jr., it seemed to come much more naturally. Michigan thrashed Youngstown State, en route to a 55-point first half to win 105-46. Walton recorded his tenth rebound and assist with under eight minutes left in the second half, and never seemed to force anything like LeVert. Unlike Caris, Walton is a diminutive point guard generously listed at 6'1, but his passing and rebounding skills along with his more attack-minded approach for points this season has paid off.
For Michigan, these team and individual results are exactly what the Wolverines needed. At the end of last season, LeVert and Walton were both sidelined with injuries, marksmen Duncan Robinson and D.J. Wilson were finishing their redshirt year, and Moritz Wagner was tearing up the Autobahn in Berlin. On Saturday, all five contributed to the victory, providing Michigan a glimpse of how good this team can really be.
Starting with LeVert, it's clear he's become extremely comfortable in his role. Besides for his horrid game at SMU, LeVert is settling into his role nicely, serving as the main scoring option but also perfectly content to defer if his teammates have the hot hand. On Saturday, LeVert finished with 19 points on 7-8 shooting, 6 rebounds and 5 assists in a "quiet" game for the senior from Pickerington, Ohio. The game is just coming to him, and having a plethora of offensive weapons around him will only make him better as the season progresses.
When LeVert wasn't making plays on Saturday, Walton seemed to happily take over. Besides for his mediocre shooting performance (4/10), Walton completed dominated Saturday's game. His 13 assists were a combination of open teammates, hot shooting, penetrating the lane and making smart passes. Any concern of a toe injury should be a worry of the past, and his rebounding numbers not just in the previous game but overall (5 per game) are a welcome sign for Wolverines fans.
Walton dropped a few of these assists to Robinson, the 6'8 shooter who seemed to have adjusted effortlessly to the speed of Division I basketball. Robinson is averaging 12.5 points per game, good for 2nd on the team, and has the 4th best 3-point shooting percentage in America. While he began the season as just a 3-point threat, Robinson has added new wrinkles to his game, including a mid-range pullup, a more concerted effort to rebound and great passing vision. A friend of mine said Robinson has the ability to make the same type of leap that Nik Stauskas made from his first to second campaign in Ann Arbor, and Robinson's slight height advantage could make him even more of a matchup nightmare later on in the season and for the next two years in Ann Arbor.
With Robinson sliding into the starting lineup, that meant the departure of Aubrey Dawkins, the 6'6 wing who has struggled to find his rhythm up until this point. On Saturday, that wasn't the case at all. Dawkins had this bounce about him, knocking down mid-range jumpers, two three-pointers and two highlight-reel dunks in scoring 19 points on 8-11 shooting. Michigan fans were unclear how the rotation would shake out with Robinson coming into the fold, and hopefully Saturday gave some clarity to that. Dawkins is a great talent and an athletic freak, and having him be the backup wing is a perfect role if he can get 15 or 20 minutes a game.
Though Michigan racked up 105 points, one player who did not reach double-figures was Zak Irvin. He finished 4-7 with 8 points and 5 rebounds, but was 0-3 on 3-pointers. Irvin's calling card coming to Michigan was his ability to shoot from the outside, and while Robinson and Walton seem to be nearly automatic at this point, Irvin has shot 7-41, or an Ann Arbor winter cold 17%. The rebounds and assists are a good sign, but Michigan is likely going to need Irvin to reach double figures in tougher Big Ten games, especially when teams start to understand how to better guard Robinson.
In the frontcourt, the carousel continues again. Ricky Doyle started the game and finished with 8 points in 13 minutes. Moritz Wagner spelled Doyle and had 7 points, but 3-6 from the free throw line, especially for someone who has as smooth a jump shot as Wagner, is a bit concerning. Mark Donnal came in spurts and only recorded one statistic in 9 minutes, a missed lay-up. But the saying goes you save the best for last, and boy did D.J. Wilson not disappoint. A few days after Beilein said that Wilson would be brought along slowly, the redshirt freshman exploded for 12 points on 5-6 shooting, including 2 3-pointers in 6 minutes of garbage time. It wasn't against great competition and came when the Wolverines were up by 50, but his activity and point production have to count for something.
Overall, Michigan has to be a team that's taken seriously heading into Big Ten play. The Wolverines have one final game against Bryant, and then a week off before they head to Champaign to play Illinois. Two seasons ago, Michigan travelled to Illinois and mauled the Illini, scoring 52 points in the first half behind 24 points from Nik Stauskas and an absurd 16-23 clip from 3. With Robinson, LeVert, Walton, Dawkins and hopefully Zak Irvin, Michigan has the firepower to put up these gaudy numbers against a team like Illinois. The Illini have been struggling with injuries and desperately will be looking for a solid conference win to boost their already tattered resume, but make no mistake that this is a game that Michigan could and absolutely should win. But in the Big Ten, the first rule is to never take anyone lightly.