It may only be Dec. 9, but the past three days amounted to a taste of March Madness for the Michigan men’s basketball team.
On Monday, a positive COVID-19 test within the NC State program canceled Wednesday’s anticipated ACC-Big Ten Challenge matchup. By Tuesday morning, Michigan, after scrambling to find an opponent, had scheduled a contest with Toledo for Wednesday night. The shift in opponents gave the Wolverines less than 36 hours to prepare.
“We talked about … how the NCAA Tournament’s gonna be, so that’s kind of how we approached everything,” sophomore forward Franz Wagner said. “And I think we were well-prepared for it.”
Indeed they were. The hectic 72-hour span culminated in a resounding 91-71 Michigan drubbing. The Wolverines’ offense operated as a well-oiled machine, pouring in a season-high 48 points in the paint and shooting 57.6% percent from the field.
The preparation, though, was hardly orthodox. Players received the scouting report later than they usually would have. Film sessions were condensed and hastened.
“We were just focused on ourselves because, as coach (Juwan) Howard says, ‘At the end of the day, that’s what we have,’ ” senior forward Isaiah Livers said.
For Livers, the preparation remained the same.
“I kinda take it as, we’re still playing the same team so tonight we were still — no disrespect to Toledo, but in my mind, I was ready to play NC State. I’m not gonna change it cause we play a low-to-mid major team. You gotta come out and practice these habits and act prepared like you’re playing a high major or, like someone said earlier, an NCAA Tournament game cause that’s what it’s gonna be like and Toledo’s actually gonna be a really good team, a really hard team to beat in the MAC conference.”
As the pandemic refuses to relent, quick turnarounds and scheduling curveballs will almost inevitably rear their heads again. Two weeks into the season, cancellations have proven to be widespread amid a slew of outbreaks.
More are bound to follow. For Michigan, the cancellation of the NC State game will almost certainly not be the last postponement they face, even as they continue to limit any outbreaks within their own program. In that sense, Wednesday’s game serves as a dress rehearsal of sorts, one in which they aced.
“Having a one-day prep was a great test for us and our staff,” Howard said. “A lot of work for our video coordinator. All hands on deck, we were able to pull it off. It was awesome to see our guys apply one day of teaching.”
Still, no matter how well the Wolverines are able to adjust on the fly to the changes, concerns linger. When asked about his personal COVID-19 apprehensions, Livers didn’t sugarcoat his answer.
“I’m a little concerned about it,” Livers said. “I don’t wanna dwell on it and think about it, cause I feel like that’s just negative thought. … I want to be all in with this team right now so I just try to focus on the game film we just had and focus on our next opponent. But other than that, as a natural human being, you’re gonna be able to get worried so you just gotta lock in.”
As the Wolverines continue forward in a season blemished by the unknown, they can look to their performance Wednesday night on a quick turnaround for guidance.
“It’s an unpredictable world that we live in right now,” Livers continued. “It’s important that we just stay ready. We don’t know what’s gonna happen. We had one there, could be more down the road, you never know but like coach Howard says, always be prepared for the change and be ready to adjust.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has thrown challenges at all of us — including The Michigan Daily — but that hasn’t stopped our staff. We’re committed to reporting on the issues that matter most to the community where we live, learn and work. Your donations keep our journalism free and independent. You can support our work here.
For a weekly roundup of the best stories from The Michigan Daily, sign up for our newsletter here.