The Big Ten was hoping it was out of the woods and wouldn’t have to deal with any more schedule disruptions due to COVID-19.
All was well until this week, when it was announced Tuesday that Northwestern and Iowa were postponing their game, scheduled for Wednesday, due to COVID-19 health and safety protocols within the Northwestern program.
The announcement — which was all too common in college basketball the past two seasons, but not so much this season — came after Michigan beat Northwestern in Ann Arbor on Sunday and prompted several thoughts to run through assistant coach Phil Martelli’s head.
“First thing is, I thought we were past this,” Martelli said Wednesday morning, noting the Wolverines haven’t experienced any COVID issues. “Second of all, we’ve been there, done that. And the third thing that popped into my mind is Michigan will make sure that we are well taken care of, well prepared.
“(Athletic trainer) Chris Williams and the athletic staff and the doctors and everybody is ahead of the curve. It’s a blessing to be part of that Michigan culture that thinks of the players first, which is what has to happen in this case.”
Michigan, like most programs across the country, hasn’t had any games affected by COVID-19 this season, after having its schedule impacted by the virus the past two years.
Last season, Michigan had a late-December nonconference game called off because Purdue Fort Wayne had an outbreak. The Wolverines also had to postpone a couple of Big Ten games and play two other conference matchups shorthanded because of their own outbreak.
During the 2020-21 season, which was played mostly in empty arenas with no fans, Michigan’s athletic department shut down all sports activity for 14 days after confirmed cases of a COVID-19 variant, though none were reported within the men’s basketball program. The pause impacted five Big Ten games, and only two of those were rescheduled, as the Wolverines completed a 17-game conference slate.
According to the Big Ten’s COVID-19 forfeiture policy, a team must have at least seven scholarship players and one coach to compete, though exceptions can be made. Per reports, Northwestern only had six available players due to COVID-19 for the game against Iowa, which the Big Ten will attempt to reschedule.
Martelli said he wasn’t aware, one way or the other, whether Michigan had been notified as to whether any of Northwestern’s positive tests were from players who appeared in Sunday’s contest.
When asked if Michigan’s players and staff members were tested for COVID-19 considering the Wildcats’ situation, Martelli said: “No, I think it’s more, ‘Where is everybody?’ and checking on everybody. It is a direct communication. It’s not a check-the-box kind of plan. It’s more personal, direct conversation with each and every person involved.”
Martelli added that as of Wednesday morning, he was anticipating the Wolverines to be at full strength heading into Thursday’s regular-season rematch against Maryland.
That means freshman guard Dug McDaniel, junior forward Terrance Williams II and junior center Hunter Dickinson, who are all DMV-area natives, will travel to College Park with their sights set on beating the hometown team once again.
“That’s like a homecoming game for me,” said McDaniel, who starred at St. Paul VI Catholic in Virginia. “I’ve got a lot of family that’s going to be there. I can’t wait to put on for my city.”
The Wolverines ran the Terrapins out of Crisler Center earlier this month behind Dickinson, McDaniel and Williams, who combined for 51 points in an 81-46 blowout. In order to sweep the home-and-home series, Martelli said Michigan needs to play with the same attention to detail on defense it did in the first meeting and it can’t have any slippage.
The one difference in this encounter, Martelli noted, is making sure that Dickinson, McDaniel and Williams don’t get caught up playing for the “wrong reasons” and worrying more about the people in the stands than the opposing players on the court.
However, Martelli didn’t anticipate it being an issue, considering their families have been able to travel and see them at other places, so it won’t be the trio’s first time playing on the road with familiar faces in the stands.
“You have to go back to these experiences that these guys have had, where they’ve played all over the country, not just in high school, but in summer basketball,” Martelli said. “The two older guys, Terrance and Hunter, I have a pretty good sense that it’s going to be ‘business as usual.’ With Dug, we will continue to take his temperature, but he is excited about going home.”
Michigan at Maryland
Tip-off: 7 p.m. Thursday, Xfinity Center, College Park, Md.
Records: Michigan 10-7, 4-2 Big Ten; Maryland 11-6, 2-4
Outlook: Michigan has won the past five meetings between the teams, including an 81-46 victory over Maryland on Jan. 1 in Ann Arbor. … The Terrapins have lost six of nine but are 9-1 at home, including 2-0 in Big Ten play with a 71-66 win over Illinois and 80-73 win over Ohio State.