| Detroit Free Press
Michigan basketball’s Juwan Howard: COVID-19 is real
Michigan basketball coach Juwan Howard talks Jan. 22, 2021, about learning of Purdue’s positive COVID-19 test ahead of the Wolverines’ win.
Michigan basketball knew the risks associated with playing college basketball during a pandemic.
At the same time, the Wolverines felt comfortable competing. They followed protocol and did not suffer any major outbreaks.
But in the current reality facing all athletics, even teams that have avoided coronavirus cases still don’t control their own situation.
The Wolverines learned that lesson earlier this fall when a game against North Carolina State was canceled due to the Wolfpack’s issues with COVID-19; later, a game at Penn State was postponed for the same reason. And on Friday, Michigan was dealt its biggest blow yet: A two-week pause of all activities due to confirmed cases of the B.1.1.7 COVID-19 variant within the athletic department.
The team had no positive tests, a source told the Free Press’ David Jesse. Yet their season is now on hold.
“Wow,” tweeted center Hunter Dickinson.
“Pain,” tweeted forward Jace Howard, along with an accompanying video.
Given what is currently known about the highly contagious variant, risk mitigation makes sense, especially when considering the outbreak in Washtenaw County began within Michigan’s athletic department.
“Canceling competitions is never something we want to do, but with so many unknowns about this variant of COVID-19, we must do everything we can to minimize the spread among student-athletes, coaches, staff, and to the student-athletes at other schools,” Michigan athletic director Warde Manuel said in a statement.
This creates a tough situation for the men’s basketball team — and the other teams in competition that had no positive tests, such as the women’s basketball team (off to the best start in program history) and the hockey team (ranked ninth and loaded with future NHL draft picks), among others.
The women’s basketball team was slated to play Purdue, at Michigan State, Michigan State, at Rutgers and Minnesota. The hockey team was supposed to play a two-game series against Penn State. And the No. 2-ranked wrestling team was supposed to face No. 1 Iowa on Jan. 31.
The men’s basketball team ran off double-digit conference wins in seven of the past eight games. According to KenPom.com, the Wolverines are currently the third-best team in the nation — their highest ranking in the system since Feb. 5, 2013. That team had six NBA draft picks in Trey Burke, Tim Hardaway Jr., Nik Stauskas, Glenn Robinson III, Mitch McGary and Caris Levert.
This season’s team might not have the same level of NBA talent, but the Wolverines have played some of the best basketball seen in Ann Arbor over the past decade.
Based on Michigan’s current schedule, the two-week pause — which began Jan. 24 — would strike out four games: at Penn State, Indiana, at Northwestern and Michigan State. The especially unlucky part for the Wolverines is that this four-game stretch was the easiest remaining portion of the schedule; the final seven games are against Illinois, at Wisconsin, Rutgers, at Ohio State, at Indiana, Iowa and at Michigan State. That is a daunting finish to the season that could be made even more difficult by the need to reschedule at least some of the upcoming games that the Wolverines will miss.
The Wolverines will not be able to practice as a team for the time being. And, of course, there is still plenty of uncertainty about how things will proceed after the pause.
“The university will be carefully considering additional mitigation measures. There are many unknowns that remain under investigation by U-M, local and state public health officials,” the school’s release said. “No determination has been made on how the pause may impact scheduled games beyond Feb. 7.”
For now, all Michigan teams can do is wait.