Michigan assistant coach Phil Martelli has one lasting memory of both of last year’s Iowa games — how big man Luka Garza took it to the Wolverines in both contests. Garza scored 44 points in a loss in Ann Arbor and 33 in a win, getting to the line 26 times between the two games, in dominating both inside and out.
U-M is better equipped to handle the big man, it seems, with Hunter Dickinson. The 7-2 frosh has played against Garza since the eighth grade, both hailing from the same area, and the match-up will certainly be personal at some level.
Winning is all that matters, though, and Martelli believes Dickinson already understands that.
“Hunter because of his personality … he and Garza are friends. They’ve known each other for a long time,” Martelli said. “The only thing I’m going to whisper to him tomorrow is you’re going to have to put the friendship aside for 40 minutes here. You’re not the youngster, like Garza being a senior and Hunter being a freshman. He can’t go in to accept that as any kind of excuse.
“Hunter has handled all this, all the notoriety and accolades. Now he has to handle the idea that this is not Hunter against Garza. This is Michigan against Iowa. I’m confident Hunter will not cross into another world and it will impact his game and make it a personal rivalry.”
For one, Garza isn’t the Hawkeyes’ only weapon. Iowa is 17-6 overall and 11-5 in the Big Ten, riding a four-game winning streak on the strength of its inside-outside game. Three regulars are shooting 44 percent or better from long range, and they’ve all been outstanding recently.
“When you watch all these games, everybody spreads out and wants to get threes in the air. We certainly have two low-post scorers, two guys that are going to go after each other,” Martelli continued. “But there’s still that idea of their three-point weapons are extraordinary. Their last five games, [Joe] Wieskamp is shooting 59 percent from three. Connor McCaffery is shooting 60 percent, and he’s the guy that ‘can’t shoot’ on their team. A kid off the bench, Keegan Murray, is shooting 71 percent the last five games …
“We have to take away the three while making sure Garza doesn’t have a record everybody in the country is talking about Friday morning. At the same time, we have to maintain our balance.”
That’s an area in which the Wolverines have excelled in all areas, Martelli said. From basketball to school to keeping their cool when things didn’t go their way, they’ve found the sweet spot that mature teams always seek, sometimes never found.
“Flat out and simple, balance,” he said when asked what made this group special. “On the basketball court, we’re not an offensive team, we’re not a defensive team — we’re a balanced team. We’re not an inside scoring team, not an outside scoring team. We’re balanced.
“Emotionally, it’s a balanced group. The challenges, how we’re going to come out of the pause … it’s because of the balance, emotional, psychological and basketball balance that this group has. There’s not a day we don’t mention what John Beilein did. Those older guys set the balance, and the way Juwan has connected and kept that balance [has been ideal].”
He’s rolled with everything thrown at him, Martelli praised, from how he handled the three-week COVID-related shutdown to a schedule that includes a gauntlet down the stretch, including five games in 11 days to finish the year.
“There’s a balance to the way Juwan approaches this and a balance in the locker room. It really is a pleasure to be in this environment,” he said.
And not just because they’re 16-1.
They haven’t talked one day about being in first place in the Big Ten or No. 3 in the nation, Martelli insisted … only about winning the next of several big games ahead. They’re well aware that a championship is within reach should they continue to take care of business, and being in control of their own destiny is motivation enough.
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