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Daily improvement is Michigan’s goal as the team pushes for the NCAA Tournament, preps for Purdue

1% better everyday makes a big difference in the long run.

Syndication: Detroit Free Press Junfu Han / USA TODAY NETWORK

The Michigan Wolverines men’s basketball team has won four out of their last five games, yet it feels like some of those wins have been losses. It took two late comebacks to defeat Northwestern and Nebraska, two teams who rank in the bottom three of the Big Ten.

Still, you have to give credit where credit is due. This team knows how to find ways to win games. It’s not easy to erase a seven point deficit in the last five minutes of a basketball game. This team wasn’t able to do that earlier in the season.

While those two wins weren’t pretty, they did show us something: a sign of improvement.

“I think it goes to the core here, and that is daily improvement,” assistant coach Phil Martelli said when asked about not making every game feel like a must-win. “You’ve all heard Juwan talk about 1%, well that has to stay the same. If anyone is sitting around saying ‘well we have to get that game, we have to get this game, and if we don’t, then we’re in a heap of trouble.’ If anyone is projecting out about what is going to happen on a Sunday in March, we don’t know. The only way we can influence that is, ‘did we improve today, will we play better basketball tomorrow than we did Tuesday night vs Nebraska.’”

Whether you’ve liked what you’ve seen from this team in the last five games, the team is winning, and the team is in a position where they can still make the tournament. There’s no question that improvements have been made.

“The most progress to me is, one: we’ve made some timely shots,” Martelli said about where he thinks the team has improved the most. “You walk out of the game the other night and say ‘holy mackerel, two threes, that’s not going to work.’ But, Eli’s three was obviously so big, and then having Brandon Johns make a three, so maybe we can get some momentum going with Brandon Johns. I think the second part is the fact that we’ve responded. Everybody here watched those games in November and December, we didn’t win the Northwestern game in November and December. We didn’t win the Nebraska game, having to come back, in November and December. We’re a little bit mentally tougher, we’re a little better at making some key shots, and that, to me, has been the growth.”

While the growth is good, is it enough to go into Mackey on Saturday and take down a top-five team in the Purdue Boilermakers? It might take more than 1% each day to slay that dragon.

Purdue has quickness and shooters on the outside with Jaden Ivey, Sasha Stefanovic, Mason Gillis and Eric Hunter Jr., and size down low with Trevion Williams and Zach Edey. Michigan is going to have its hands full slowing them down.

“We have, obviously, an intricate defensive game plan,” Martelli said. “I’m going to break the coaching code here and say to you, I actually think our best defense in this game is with our offense, we have to score the ball, we just have to score the ball. They (Purdue) lead the Big Ten in points per game, they lead the Big Ten in field goal percentage, they have balance across the floor. I think one way that we can stifle their offense is to score the ball.”

We’ll see if the daily improvements have paid off at 2:30 p.m. on Saturday when Michigan and Purdue face off on FOX.