Michigan basketball‘s current schedule features a six-day gap between Sunday’s game at Ohio State and next Saturday’s game at Indiana.
Given the five games that the No. 3 Wolverines missed due to a two-week shutdown of the university’s athletic department, logic would suggest that perhaps one — or more — of those postponed contests would slot into next week’s six-day break.
“There have been different scenarios thrown around,” said coach Juwan Howard on Wednesday. “But I’m not in a position right now to share any information with you guys.”
[The Free Press is running a great deal right now for our new subscribers. Sign up here for just $1 for 6 months. Deal ends 2/18.]
Due to the two-week pause, the Wolverines (14-1, 9-1 Big Ten) have played just 10 conference games, putting them far behind the pace required of the full 20-game conference slate just three weeks before the conference tournament in Indianapolis.
As of Wednesday, Michigan has five regular season games remaining: Rutgers on Feb. 18, at Ohio State on Feb. 21, at Indiana on Feb. 27, Iowa on March 4 and at Michigan State on March 7.
The current expectation seems to be that there will be more games to come. But the Wolverines have yet to receive definitive word regarding any potential make-up games.
“They haven’t really buckled down and said what is the true schedule moving forward, so there’s nothing sketched in stone at this time,” Howard said. “Whatever it is, we’ll definitely have to pivot, because this is the new normal right now.”
When the Wolverines spoke with reporters last Friday, both Howard and co-captain Isaiah Livers seemed apprehensive about the prospect of playing all 20 conference games.
“It doesn’t sound fun,” Livers said on Friday. “As much as I would like to, we don’t have robotic legs. I wish we didn’t feel soreness or I would be all for it, but that would be very sore, then going into the postseason, I don’t know if that would be the best idea.”
Howard, meanwhile, said that it “would be very challenging,” pointing out various potential issues.
“We’d miss a ton of classes,” Howard said Friday. “Let’s also look at the mental health standpoint. I’m an open book. This is our guys’ team and their schedule and also their college experience. Would they want to play 11 games in 22 days? And then from a health standpoint, I’m not sure if it would be smart because of the long layoff. Rushing and playing that many games in a short amount of time does not give the human body time to recover, which at the end of the day, we’re not machines, we’re humans. And that’s not the type of pressure that I want to place on our student-athletes at the time.”
While Howard and his players made their feelings clear, they also understand there’s no guarantee that their voices will be heard by those in charge of rescheduling any postponed games.
“I have no idea how much input we have or if anyone is listening to us or asking us any questions,” Howard said Wednesday. “I think at the end of the day, our players, they have a voice and they should have a voice in this. Because this is their season. This is their story. They should not be muzzled — not saying that they are — on what they feel is right for their schedule moving forward.
“I know before the season started the goal was for every Big Ten school to have 20 games played this year, but because there is a pandemic and things happen, pretty much not all schools but some have gone through it like we have. It’s challenging. Everyone has to pivot. I think the Big Ten has to do the same.”
Later, Howard was asked about the possibility of playing back-to-back games, as seen in the NBA and with some Big Ten teams this season. And while his answer was short and measured, it wasn’t hard to decipher how he felt about the possibility of his team playing back-to-back games.
“Well, every program is different,” Howard said. “We’re a lot different from Nebraska and Maryland. I’ll just leave it like that.”