Without first opponent in place, Howard and the Wolverines are taking it day by day
Back in mid-March, it looked as though Michigan would open up the 2020-2021 season on Tuesday night by welcoming Georgia State to Crisler Center. Those plans have changed.
Not only has the season’s start date been pushed back to Nov. 25 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but the Wolverines don’t even know who they'll be playing.
The lone game on Michigan’s current schedule is a matchup with NC State as part of the ACC-Big Ten Challenge on Dec. 9. Beyond that, nothing is set in stone.
“What the schedule looks like I honestly really don’t know,” Michigan coach Juwan Howard told reporters Monday. “When the schedule does come out, the key is can we do it in a safe manner where it protects everyone’s safety and I’m speaking of players, coaches, support staff and opponents.”
One high-profile SEC school, Kentucky, announced its entire 27-game schedule last week, featuring 18 conference games. As currently constructed, the SEC’s conference schedule also includes a “make-up game window” from Mar. 5-7, a week prior to the SEC Tournament.
According to Howard, the Wolverines have been in contact with a few possible opponents but haven’t had the chance to finalize anything given the state of the pandemic.
“Every school has to deal with it,” Howard said. “I know that there was one school that recently put out their schedule from the SEC and I had a chance to see it. That’s great for them and it doesn’t make me uncomfortable at all. We just know that this is a new world, a very difficult time and you gotta be patient during the process.”
Jon Rothstein of CBS Sports reported on Friday that the Big Ten intends to announce its conference schedule later this week.
While that announcement would provide Michigan with a light at the end of the tunnel, Howard’s main priority is keeping his team safe.
“When the schedule does come out, the key is can we do it in a safe manner where it protects everyone’s safety and I’m speaking of players, coaches, support staff and opponents,” Howard said.
“We’ve seen it recently during a football, Big Ten conference season where there have been postponed games because there was a stoppage of play. COVID is winning. We have to figure out how to learn on the fly and it’s fluid every day, but how can we keep our guys safe through the process? And let’s see what happens.”
Central to that effort will be schools’ ability to keep coronavirus cases in check — something the University has struggled with the past few months.
University President Mark Schlissel visited practice on Sunday to both brief the team on current school testing procedures and outline how they can best ensure a safe, successful season.
“Our guys are really excited to see him walk into the building,” Howard said. “We’re very happy and not just happy but we appreciate the fact that we have a president as well as other staff members that work with him doing whatever they can to keep us — all our student athletes, staff, coaches — healthy and safe during this pandemic.
“The resources that are available have been great. It’s nice to see how President Schlissel came out and has just been real. And he’s always been … sharing his support to the group and I’m sure he’s done that with other sports teams but now our guys see that we have a president that’s in our corner, supporting us. We have a smile on the team’s face. It’s great to see it.”
And after months away from actual competition, though they don’t yet know their opponent, the Wolverines will surely have another smile on their faces when they finally tip off in just over two weeks.
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