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Phil Martelli, Tarris Reed Jr talk playing two bigs, preparing for Northwestern

Reed Jr played great defense against Kris Murray in the Iowa loss

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: JAN 12 Michigan at Iowa Photo by Keith Gillett/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

A few days ago, we saw Michigan Wolverines lose to Iowa in familiar fashion: they executed well on offense most of the contest, but they let the game slip away in those final minutes.

When asked about those late-game situations Saturday, associate head coach Phil Martelli said that the Wolverines have to communicate more on defense, get a better feel for each other in the final few minutes, and use their dribble more effectively.

It came down to Iowa besting them on a few late possessions, but that’s how the cookie crumbles in college basketball sometimes.

“If you really break down Iowa, their execution on the three and four-point play were extraordinary. They were better than us on those two plays,” Martelli said. “It feels like the sky fell on us Thursday night, but at some point you got move past the rubble and lift yourself up. To me, we weren’t good enough on three or four possessions against Iowa. They were the better team in those entities, we have to do that now.”

In that Iowa loss, we saw a look from the Wolverines that we haven’t seen all season long.

Hunter Dickinson and Tarris Reed Jr. shared the floor in both halves, a pairing that the Wolverines have wanted to try since they went to London earlier this season.

“We came back from Europe, and it was one of two or three things we practiced over there, and Juwan really liked it,” Martelli said. “Tarris (usually) goes against Hunter (in practice), now we’re into a more cerebral practice, so we have a chance to put Tarris with Hunter. Tarris Reed has good feet and I think the shock as much as anything got to (Kris) Murray. ‘You’re putting a freshman big on me?’ Well, guess what, young fella, no one else has had answers for stopping you.”

Tarris Reed Jr. did an excellent job moving laterally and preparing to slow down Iowa’s best player.

“I know his NBA talent, his offensive game, I had to watch a lot of film on him,” Reed Jr. said. "With a player like that with such good pace and an offensive skill set that’s off the charts, you have to take away his strength, and his biggest strength is his left hand,” Reed Jr. said. “Guarding him, I was able to try to deny and take away his left hand as much as possible when I was on the floor.”

Martelli said that playing the two big men together against Iowa “wasn’t a spur-of-the-moment thing” and that we’ll see that look from the Wolverines more situationally going forward.”

We’ve seen the freshman big man’s playing time slightly uptick the last few games. When I asked him about that, Reed Jr. said earning more time on the floor is a big confidence boost for him.

“I’m definitely getting more comfortable out there, cause at first I was learning and picking up things on the fly, even though I still am, the game has slowed down a little bit for me,” Reed Jr. said. “There’s still times in the games where I’m speeding up and rushing, so overall I just need to be patient and trust the process.”

Preparing for Northwestern

In what will come as a surprise to most casual college basketball fans, the Northwestern Wildcats are 12-4 and 4th in the Big Ten conference, with impressive road wins over Michigan State and Indiana under their belt.

While they have lost key pieces from last year in Pete Nance to UNC and Ryan Young to Duke, Martelli said that they’ve looked good in these road games because of their ability to defend. They are only allowing opponents to score 59.3 points per game, a mark that’s second in the conference behind Rutgers and 12th in the country.

“I would say it’s a surprise with what they’ve lost, with (Pete) Nance and (Ryan) Young being gone," Martelli said. “They’re switching so aggressively, and in conference play they are averaging about 10 steals a game. The way it was presented to our team was that they are a national level defense.”

As Martelli alluded to, a key to Northwestern's success has been because of their veteran guards making big-time contributions. Seniors Chase Audige (15.8 points, 3.3 assists, 2.8 steals per game) and Boo Buie (14.6 ppg, 4.3 apg, 1.0 spg) are certainly focal points of Michigan’s game plan.

“Both of these kids, Boo Buie and Chase, are really, really physical tough defenders, downhill players,” Martelli said. “The age factor comes in, to me, that’s why they’re able to perform on the road because those guys are so old and experienced.”

Martelli said that to bounce back and combat that aggressive switching, the Wolverines will have to screen well and defend. He said that Reed Jr. is the team’s best screener, and the young big man feels that if they can get off to a fast start, they can earn another crucial home win.

“(We) have to play our game, and it starts on the defensive side,” Reed Jr. said. “When we came out against Maryland, we made a conscious effort to look up on the defensive side because defense is going to create offense. We know what we have to do, but the No. 1 thing is defense and rebound and we’ll win that game.”