The Michigan basketball team can’t even make it to a meal without getting another reminder.
Phil Martelli and the Wolverines (3-1) had just landed in the Bahamas and were heading to dinner on the team bus when U-M’s acting coach was scrolling on his phone, stopped, and rolled his eyes. Sure enough, Long Beach State, the lower-level Division I school that had just upset his team 94-86 in Ann Arbor on Friday, fell 61-52 to Illinois State in its next game.
Martelli specifically pointed out how Marcus Tsohonis, who dropped 35 points on his squad, was held to five.
“We are not over (what happened) Friday, we did not put our best foot forward,” Martelli said Tuesday via Zoom. “It really does irk you that they lost. The challenge here is Memphis. What’s the lesson learned? When the ball goes in the air we’ll find out.”
Memphis (3-0) is the first of three games in three days for the Wolverines (5 p.m., ESPN2), who return to the Battle 4 Atlantis for the first time since 2019.
That was Juwan Howard’s first season with U-M and things got off to a pretty decent start. The unranked Wolverines picked up an 83-76 win over Iowa State, then got back-to-back top 10 wins; first over No. 6 North Carolina (73-64), then No. 8 Gonzaga (82-64) to win the championship.
For Terrance Williams Jr, then a senior in high school, it was all he needed to see at the time.
“That tournament that year, I feel like it was the biggest thing that made me commit,” Williams recalled. “Coach Howard was a new coach at the time, didn’t really have any experience to look at him in a college setting vs. good teams, then he went into the tournament and blew each team out of the water.
“It made it clear he was ready for college basketball. Once I saw that he was prepared and once I saw that he’s making his players better, that just made me and my family trust him even more.”
Howard hasn’t coached a game yet this season, he underwent heart surgery in mid-September, but he did travel with the team to the tournament. Per Martelli, who was in charge of the scout for the Tigers, Howard is “fully engaged,” but it’s not clear if he will be on the bench for the event.
“I don’t know,” Martelli said. “I’m not trying to be coy. He’s also watched as much Memphis tape as anybody.”
The Wolverines aren’t just limited on coaches, but bodies. It’s been a tight rotation for U-M, which entered the season shorthanded with two open scholarship spots, in addition to still being without the services of point guard Jaelin Llewellyn (ACL) and forward Jace Howard (tibia, stress fracture).
In Friday’s loss, Michigan had essentially a seven-man rotation − six players played at least 20 minutes, one played 15 − while an eighth (George Washington III) played four minutes. With three games in three days, it stands to reason a tight rotation could create some tired legs, but that’s not a concern for U-M captain Olivier Nkamhoua.
“We’re not here to play three games, we’re here to play one game, and that one game right now is Memphis,” said Nkamhoua, whose Tennessee team won the tournament last season with a 64-50 win over Kansas in the title game. “There’s no need to worry about load management for the next games, there’s no need to worry about what your minutes are gonna look like tomorrow.
“Have to do what we have to do on Wednesday. Then whatever comes after that is what we get ready for, after we handle business.”
Handling the business for Michigan will look like defense − scoring hasn’t been a problem.
U-M has put up 85 points or more in all four games and had at least one 20-point scorer each game. Nkamhoua has done it twice, as has his point guard Dug McDaniel, while Will Tschetter and Nimari Burnett too have shown the capability of filing it up. Martelli knows scoring is fun.
Tuesday, he told the story of a gentleman who mentioned to him the last time he was at church how he loved that the team scored 85 points again vs. The Beach. In Martelli’s mind, all he could think about was how U-M allowed LBSU to shoot 56.1% from the floor (37-of-66) and 47.1 % (8-of-17) on 3-pointers.
“Unless it was 86-85, then I would say ‘yeah that was great’,” Martelli said. “But when the other team scores more than you, that’s not great offense.”
So how to fix it? It starts with better help side rotation, which Martelli said was basically “nonexistent” the last time out. Then the next step, believe it or not, sometimes is as simple as individual determination to win the matchup.
“A little bit of a fear factor, like ‘Am I good enough? Can I guard my man?’ There can be none. There can no trepidation against Memphis,” Martelli said. “Because they’re going to play nine of 10 guys and they all come in with this scorers mentality.”
MICHIGAN FOOTBALL STOCK WATCH: J.J. McCarthy’s November struggles continue
Memphis is also a high-powered offense under sixth-year coach Penny Hardaway; the Tigers currently average 85.3 points per game and have a ton of experience at the overall college level, but not s one unit.
The Tigers have four double-figure scorers, all of whom are seniors who played for another school last season: St. Joseph transfer David Jones (15.7 points, 7.3 rebounds), Wichita State transfer Jaykwon Walton (14.7 points, 5.0 rebounds), senior Alabama transfer Jahvon Quinerly (14.0 points, 5.7 rebounds) and Louisiana transfer Jordan Brown (10.3 points, 5.3 rebounds).
If Michigan wins, it will face the winner of Arkansas and Stanford at 5 p.m. Thursday. If it loses, it will face the loser of that game at approximately 7:30 p.m.
This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Michigan basketball will see if it ‘learned its lesson’ vs. Memphis