After beginning the season 6-5 and struggling to find its shooting stroke, the Michigan men’s basketball team is looking forward to the start of the Big Ten season.
It’s an opportunity to start fresh, to wipe the slate clean, to essentially hit the “redo” button on the beginning of the year.
And while they can still do that when they travel to Bloomington to play Indiana at Assembly Hall on New Year’s Eve, the stars aren’t exactly aligning for the Wolverines in a season that was widely expected to end in a second-straight NCAA Tournament berth.
On Tuesday, Michigan coach John Beilein announced that redshirt freshman center Ben Cronin’s hip problems will cause him to miss the rest of the season and possibly never play basketball again.
“We met with the doctors, and they’ve concluded that to continue to try to play at this level — at any level, really — could be doing more damage than good,” Beilein said. “I just wish some of you could have seen him when he was 17 years old, and doing things that gave him so much promise.”
Cronin has played sparingly in games this season, hampered by complications since undergoing hip surgery last season.
Beilein said Cronin will continue to be a presence on the team.
“He’d like to be a teacher and a coach,” Beilein said. “So we’ve opened that up to him.”
Beilein also said that if the injury was career-ending — which is the expectation — the team would petition to keep him on a non-counting scholarship that wouldn’t count toward the team’s total because of the medical nature of the situation.
But that wasn’t the only blow the team suffered Tuesday.
It was also announced, hours later, that assistant coach Jerry Dunn would be taking an indefinite leave of absence to attend to “personal family matters.”
Both of these incidents could be distracting for the Wolverines, at a time when they need to be more focused than ever.
Big Ten road victories could breathe new life into Michigan’s tournament chances. The team’s first stop is Indiana. The Hoosiers are coming off a horrendous year in which they went 6-25 and won only one Big Ten game. While they’re still rebuilding, they do have one more signature road win than Michigan — which is to say they have one, against Pittsburgh in New York during the Jimmy V Classic on Dec. 8.
Indiana (6-6) has experienced a body blow in its own right. Freshman guard and leading scorer Maurice Creek suffered a season-ending knee injury during the Hoosiers’ last game, against Bryant.
Even with the injury, Assembly Hall is known throughout the basketball world as one of the toughest places to play. Last year at the Hall, Michigan needed overtime to beat an Indiana team that was seriously struggling.
“It’s tough playing there, but we gotta just go down there and just stay focused like we’ve been stressing all year,” junior Manny Harris said. “We know they’re going to come with their ‘A’ game, so it’s like I said, just stay focused, basically.”
Beilein said he hopes his team will be able to keep that focus despite the recent news about Cronin and Dunn.
“Hopefully, they’ll bond even stronger together through it all.”