Going to take it spot by spot, starting at the top.
Derrick Walton has been Michigan’s best player, with Caris Levert missing about half the season to date with injury. I thought Walton didn’t look like himself physically right up until Big Ten time, but at this stage I think he seems to be mostly if not completely beyond his foot injury…looks to me like most of his explosion and speed is back. He’s having a nice year…really shooting the ball well from deep at 45%, has a 2:1 assist to TO ratio and leads the team in rebounding at 5.8 per game despite only going 6’1″. I said at some point a few weeks ago that Michigan had to be great, not just very good, offensively to have a chance to be more than a 10-8/11-7 type team in the conference and that Walton was the key to that happening (not Levert). While tonight they didn’t look the part, they are 16th in offensive efficiency playing without their most talented guy for a lot of the season, and I think you give most of the credit to Walton. He’s the dynamic force their offense needs to go up a level.
With Albrecht out, the backup minutes mostly fall to Abdur-Rahkman, who is miscast as a point guard. Statistically, his profile looks OK but he’s less of a comfortable fit IMO than even someone like Matt McQuaid is for MSU. The good news is that Michigan only needs him to play around one 4 minute stint per half, so they don’t suffer very long. MAAR can move the ball but he lacks the ability to create for others and force defenses to distort, things that Walton brings to the table which improve the abilty of his teammates to put points up. Neither guy has been very good defensively, but that goes for Michigan’s entire team.
The question for MSU is, do they have Tum back and if they do, how much do they get from him? This is a game you’d ideally want Tum out there because if he can check Walton and limit him, it gets very, very tough for Michigan’s offense to function the way they need it to. To be safe, I’m assuming we see limited play from Tum. That means it’ll be the combination of Denzel Valentine and Matt McQuaid. Zel won’t check Walton most likely…that will fall to Eron Harris to start. Harris showed against Melo Trimble that he is capable of playing good pick and roll defense, which is a key against Walton as much as it was in the Maryland game. MSU will need a similar effort to the one they displayed in that game, with big men hedging effectively, forcing Walton to go E-W as opposed to N-S. I suspect the game plan will be similar to what we saw in that game. Walton is a better jump shooter than is Trimble but honestly, the overall deal is the same…if Walton scores 20 some points on deep jumpers, you can live with it if he’s not also getting into the paint and creating for others, drawing fouls, etc. On the other end, I would tend to think they’ll start Dawkins or Irvin on Zel…that could end up as a total mismatch in MSU’s favor, as Dawkins in particular is just a horrific defender. I would think they’ll want Walton guarding Forbes…unless they opt to go with heavy zone usage, which against MSU I think would be a big mistake.