There’s never an opportune time for an injury.
That’s especially the case when the injury happens to a team’s second-leading scorer.
Yet, when junior center Moritz Wagner rolled his ankle Dec. 12 against Texas, it seemed like it was coming at as ideal a time as any. Michigan overcame the injury to beat the Longhorns, and then it had matchups against Detroit, Alabama A&M and Jacksonville — games the Wolverines were likely to win with or without a healthy Wagner.
And Wagner returned to action in a timely fashion — just over two weeks after being injured — against the Dolphins. Now, it seems the injury has had lingering effects. Wagner has shown signs of discomfort with a lack of production in his two games since his return. In his 20 minutes against Jacksonville, Wagner scored a season-low seven points. Tuesday, against Iowa, he beat that by scoring just four points in his 16 minutes.
“He’s just not right after the injury. He’s just not right,” said Michigan coach John Beilein after the game against the Hawkeyes. “We’ve just got to get back, and he’s got to get, you know, when it’s your feet, he was really tender, and he was walking funny. Now he’s fine, but getting that back.
“If any of you have ever had an injury to your foot, and then, when you get that cast off, you don’t even know, it feels so funny. He’s just not himself with his feet. He’s way off balance. We’ve just got to get back to basics with him. And I’m concerned about it, because this is something, we need Moe Wagner.”
And the Wolverines will need Wagner soon. After Michigan hosts Illinois – one of the lesser Big Ten teams – it encounters Purdue and Michigan State, arguably the two best teams in the conference.
The Boilermakers and Spartans also get a majority of their production from their size. Both have skilled big men who, even with a healthy Wagner, will likely pose a problem for the Wolverines.
So there is a bit of a sense of urgency when it comes to Wagner’s recovery. Beilein says it is no longer a matter of time. Wagner is healthy, but now they just have to get him back into the shape he was in before the injury.
“I think we’re ready to dive in right now,” Beilein said. “I think he’s healthy, but it was like, okay, yesterday in practice, this was his first day that I felt we could really go at him, but we had a game the next day. So, we’ve got to get him, tomorrow’s a day off. Thursday, we’ve got to get his cardio up, and we’ve got to get his balance back. He’s off balance. We’ve just got to get him more fundamentally sound again.”
If Wagner can revert to his old form soon, then the point will be moot. The last two games will be looked back on as a blip on the radar of an otherwise successful season.
Sophomore center Jon Teske has been able to relieve any stress caused by Wagner’s slow return, as he had seven points and six rebounds against Iowa and has been a key defensive mainstay when he’s in the game. But as Beilein said, Michigan needs Wagner. It needs his 15.6 points per game and 7.8 rebounds per game he was averaging before the injury.
Not only do the Wolverines need Wagner to be himself again, but with tough games against the class of the Big Ten on the horizon, they will likely need it sooner rather than later.