The Next 16 Games Will Define the Legacy of Zak and Derrick

We are halfway through the regular season, Big Ten games have just started, and one thing is clear: the last sixteen games will write the ballad of Derrick Walton and Zak Irvin. They were role players on a B1G champion and leaders on a team that made the tourney, but they couldn’t keep up the standard.

John Beilein’s legacy is not at stake. He took a program that hadn’t won a B1G title in 25 years or been to the tourney in 10 and won 2 B1G titles, made a finals appearance and another Elite 8, and is working on 6 tourney appearances in 7 years – all while graduating players from the business and engineering schools. He also has more time.

But this is it for Derrick and Zak. We can’t always control our circumstances. When Zak and Derrick committed in the summer of 2011, they were fringe top-100 guys and Michigan fans were thrilled about almost beating Duke in the second round. By the end of their freshman year, they were former top 50 recruits next in line as future NBA draft picks at one of the NCAA’s hottest programs.

As we’ve discussed here and as Dylan points out on the blog, this vast majority of remaining games are some variation of toss-ups. Whether fair or not, as the senior leaders and primary ball-handlers, Zak and Derrick will garner the credit or absorb the blame. They will never be Trey and Nik, but a strong finish and they will be players who helped Michigan to the mountain top and kept the team in sight of the peak. A poor end and they will be the guys who couldn’t keep the ball from rolling down the hill.

I’ll be rooting for them.


I was wondering last night if Irvin and Walton realize that they are seniors. This is their last go round. When will they (and Donnal) start playing like it?
If this season starts to slip away, I would be all in favor of throwing the young guys in there and start preparing for next year.

I think that’s certainly fair. With that said, Walton hasn’t been the same guy since his foot injury. As a freshman, he looked very capable of developing into a great point guard.

Irvin, too, has been set back by injuries. In the final 10 or so games of his sophomore year, he was playing very good all around basketball - scoring, passing, rebounding. He too hasn’t been the same guy since his back injury. He’s never been a high flyer, but he threw down dunks with no problem as a sophomore. Not anymore.

I think it’s entirely possible neither guy was ever an NBA player, with or without injury. But both would have been far better in college, IMO. And there have been plenty of college stars (for example, Scottie Reynolds) who play at a high level but never make the league.

Right now, these two guys are what they are - good but not great players who have moments of brilliance (see Walton’s seven threes and 25 points against SMU) but who are inconsistent game to game.

In terms of on court success and player development - which tend to go hand in hand - we’re definitely in a lull right now. We’ll find out over the next few years whether it can be reversed. I will say this, Wilson and Wagner are certainly developing before our eyes and will be a big part of a resurgence if it happens.


I am being realistic. I’m simply saying that when players underperform and actually regress, that falls on the shoulders of the head coach to a large degree. Do you not feel that is objectively true?

I think it’s very personal for you. Anyone with basketball knowledge would likely agree that player regression and underperformance are no doubt coaching issues to varying degrees.

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Very fair post here

And I would add Chatman and Donnal, that falls on the staff. And with Chatman, I felt like he could play through and fix his issues, but he really never got the chance, which they should have given him.

I mean, there are objective explanations for much of what has happened (Caris and Spike injuries as well), but it has been a weird three years to say the least.

Yeah, the injuries to Zak and Derrick were major factors in their careers - and that’s even ignoring how Caris’s injuries and NBA defections affected the team’s success, or how players like Donnal and Chatman actually fell much shorter of hopes/expectations.

So it’s not fair, really, but it’s accurate – players situated like Derrick and Zak get the glory or condemnation. That’s one of the beautiful/terrible things about sports. While I agree that they are who they are, a few games – even a few plays – will change the way we feel about them.

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The down grading of JB for not developing talent is lol wrong.

Players reach their peaks at different times. Walton and Irvin peaked very early. Both might get marginally better but they are who they are. The best developer of talent in the world would not be able to get much more out of them…

The key to avoiding the mediocrity as a team, we are experiencing now, is that you need to pray that the two players who fail to develop past their 19th birthday happen to be anybody except the two guys who are charged with running the offense.

We can critique JB for failing to adjust his assessment of what Walton and Irvin are capable of and failing to change the plan, but we can’t fault him for not developing them. They are developed. Walton and Irvin have issues they can’t overcome.

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Just makes absolutely no sense in my view. He gets credit for Trey, Nik, Caris…but when the tables turn then the players are maxed out. How convenient

There is an element of crapshooting in the process.

That is my point.

I could get on board with the idea that there has been a decline in development except I am very happy with how DJ and Wagner are developing…Somethings are out of JB’s control.

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Who is so worried about credit? And why does this talent development argument come up in literally every thread?

I think Derrick’s development is the most frustrating, because I thought he had a higher ceiling and it doesn’t look like he’s going to reach it, and I do think that the toe injury as a sophomore really hurt him. But there’s also more to the story.

Zak hasn’t developed into a pro, but his game has certainly grown from his freshman year where he was a ridiculously one dimensional shooter who never passed or did anything but catch and shoot from the corner.

This is definitely a big three months coming up for both… Every game in the Big Ten is going to be a battle, are they going to be able to help Michigan win some close ones? We’ll see.

I think the point that @UMHoopsFan makes about the timing of when they committed (before the F4 run) is especially interesting to think about. It was almost like they were supposed to take Michigan to the next level, then it already was when they arrived and since they’ve been under kind of this immense pressure to continue it.


I think Zak and DWalt are better now than when they arrived.
I think DJ and Mo are better now than when they arrived.
I think Simpson is getting better every game.
I think Maar is better now than when he arrived.
MattD, do you disagree?


I agree with you there, with the caveat being that Saddi Washington has worked with DJ almost exclusively.

That said, you’d be hard pressed to deny that guard development/evaluation hasn’t declined in recent years.

Also food for thought - if it’s a total crapshoot, then any idea of a coach as a master developer/evaluator is BS, since at that point we’re essentially talking luck.

I think player development comes up because it’s the flip side of the coin to recruiting, the other topic that shows up on every thread.

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I don’t think Walton is any better.

I think Irvin has regressed from his sophomore year.

Donnal has regressed majorly.

DJ and Mo have certainly improved, but DJ has not been JB’s project but he still gets credit in my view because he is the QC department ultimately.

Simpson has nowhere to go but up, so that’s irrelevant.

MAAR hasn’t really improved.

Robinson hasn’t improved.

From when they first arrived? You serious Clark?

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Exactly, if you’re crappy at one then you have to absolutely excel at the other.

It’s hard to really gauge against first arrival because opportunity is limited. In other words you have to account for opportunity/volume vs improvement.

Crapshoot is an element.

I do think the praise as a developer of talent is sometimes overblown because JB seems to limit responsibilities for players their freshman year. The contrast between freshman year to sophomore year improvement has some to do with role changes. THe premiere example is the myth that some hold that Stauskas was taught how to dribble the summer before his sophomore year…

Totally agree here - see my comment above, difference between improvement and opportunity.