Freshman guard Derrick Walton Jr. is averaging 8.6 points. (Steve Perez / Detroit News)
After garnering a share of the Big Ten title in 2012 and reaching the Final Four last season, there aren’t very many things Michigan hasn’t done in the past few years.
With their surprising start in conference so far this season, the Wolverines are in position to have another successful stretch, but could scratch off a few more items from the list of rarities.
U-M (16-4, 8-0 Big Ten) been consistent this season, with four straight road wins. Add the recent stretch of three straight wins over top-10 teams — for the first time in school history — and the win at Wisconsin’s Kohl Center — the first since 1999 — and it’s clear why it is the leader in the conference standings.
But to continue its 10-game win streak, Michigan will need another win against a team against which it has struggled recently. Although the Wolverines have won four of the last 10 against Indiana (13-8, 3-5), only one of those wins has been on the road.
Dating back to 1988, U-M is 2-21 at Assembly Hall, with wins in 2009 and 1995. That’s a lengthy stretch, encompassing the recent Michigan teams, as well as the Fab Five era and the national-championship team of 1989.
Coach John Beilein attributes at least some of that to the atmosphere in Assembly Hall and the Hoosiers fans.
“There’s a lot of loud places in the country that we played at. It’s hard to know the decibel levels and who’s got the loudest,” Beilein said Saturday via teleconference. “That atmosphere gets as loud as the Dukes, the Michigan States, the Purdues (and Iowa State), that seem to get loud.
“It’s as good as it gets as far as the atmosphere for a home game and for it gets tough for the road team. You have to play through that.”
Although the Hoosiers have lost most of their conference championship team from last year, sophomore point guard has taken the reins and become a standout player in the conference. Ferrell leads Indiana in scoring (17.3) and assists (4.0) and freshman big man Noah Vonleh adds 11.8 points and 9.3 rebounds.
“He had such a great team last year and the four other guys that started with him were terrific. He did a wonderful job of fitting in before he tried to stand out,” Beilein said. “Now, he’s taken on a personality of a four-year starter — he’s running the team, he’s making big shots and he’s a go-to guy for them.”
Beilein, who coached the USA Basketball team this summer in the World University Games, got to see Ferrell up close but doesn’t think he gained much of an advantage.
“We also taught them a lot of things we like to do at Michigan. Watching him play, he’s young as well,” Beilein said. “Anything I learned from him or anything we worked on in World University Games, he playing at a really high level now and it won’t make a difference.”
Getting his feet wet
Just as Ferrell had to do last season in adjusting to playing point guard as a freshman, Michigan’s Derrick Walton Jr. is learning the ropes in his first season.
Walton has perked up his production, including big games recently at Michigan State and against Purdue. But learning the position has its ups and downs, something Beilein has gotten used to as Walton progresses.
“You have to have thick skin and a very high IQ to be a freshman point guard and have success,” Beilein said. “For the very best ones, it’s very rare that they start and do everything — a positive assist-to-turnover ratio, shoot from deep with good percentages and also run their teams.
“If you watch the good ones, it usually takes a couple years.”
Walton is averaging 8.6 points and 2.8 assists.