The Michigan Wolverines are coming off one of their most disappointing losses of the season, a 83-61 blowout at Penn State. They had Monday off before a lengthy film and workout session on Tuesday.
At his media availability Wednesday, associate head coach Phil Martelli stressed that this team isn’t wallowing in their losses; they’re just trying to get better each day.
“I think you always look to those things, like how are we going to respond? To be honest with you, it can be a bit overdone,” Martelli said. “The idea is the value of Tuesday, and did we get the most out of Tuesday that we could? Not, ‘Are we still recovering from Sunday? Are we still thinking about last week’s Purdue game?’ I thought for two days before the game, it was focused, which it needs to be. Now it has to be better. As much as people can say play harder or tougher, you know what it really is? Play better. We have to be better today at both ends of the floor than we were yesterday.”
It was yet another loss for the Wolverines on the road this season. A big reason Michigan is on the outside looking in when it comes to the NCAA Tournament is its inability to win on the road; the Wolverines only have one true road win this season, a victory against Minnesota, the last-place team in the Big Ten.
When asked if he’s seen gradual improvement on the road, Martelli took a 15-second pause before giving a pretty transparent response.
“The honest answer I can give you is I don’t know. I haven’t really processed it all the way out. Obviously it’s different, and it’s been addressed that it’s different, and they have to become tighter, not more afraid on the road,” Martelli said. “I guess the proof is in the pudding — we did not answer to the environment on Sunday (or) the game before that at Maryland.”
Martelli continued to say performing well on the road is crucial for postseason aspirations.
“On the road, play for the silence, don’t play for the noise,” Martelli said. “I can’t say that we’ve played to the noise, we haven’t played nervous, just haven’t played well enough on the road. I like your description, this is the next opportunity. That’s what separates you really. If you want to be a good team, win on the road. You want to be a postseason team, win on the road. You want to move up into the bye area in the Big Ten, win on the road, and that is our intention in preparing to win on the road.”
Michigan’s next game is an away game against Northwestern. The Wolverines won their first matchup a few weeks ago. Since that win, Northwestern has dealt with COVID issues within the program, and with postponements and make-up games, this will be the fifth game in 10 days for the Wildcats.
Despite that, Northwestern is 3-1 since its loss to Michigan. Martelli said Northwestern is playing well and the Wolverines, who have only had 10 fast break points in their last four games, need to focus on playing fast to win.
“They had a COVID pause, which is unusual this year, and here’s how they responded: they come out and they beat Wisconsin, they run away from Nebraska and Minnesota, and then a heavy compete last night (in a loss to Iowa),” Martelli said. “We’re not going to change the way we play. We have to acknowledge we have to play quicker, not to attack them, but for us we have to get more in transition, more up-and-down play.”
Martelli attributed the lack in fast break points to a lack in steals and blocks.
“All year long, our individual defense and our team defense, we’re not a team that creates a lot of turnovers,” Martelli said. “One of the things we’re noticed is that we’re a beat off in outleting the ball after a rebound. I would say it starts there. We have to clean up the defensive boards and then we really have to work on outleting the ball. Everybody wants to be part of the offense, so we want to get everyone running with the ball. But it starts with rebounding.”
A big part of preparing for Northwestern and other Big Ten teams is the players who don’t play much who end up on the scout team. Martelli did give some high praise for true freshmen Youssef Khayat and Gregg Glenn, who have helped Michigan a ton in practice.
“I will say this: my four years in this program, when I walk away and somebody says ‘what were the 8-10 most memorable things that happened to you?’ Up near the top is going to be the scout team’s ability to morph into our opponent,” Martelli said. “The IQ and the competitive instinct over the scout team players in my four years has blown me away.”