MSU-UM basketball game Saturday postponed due to COVID protocols with Wolverines

James Hawkins
The Detroit News

This season’s first meeting between the Spartans and Wolverines has been put on hold.

The Michigan men’s basketball team announced that Saturday’s scheduled rivalry game at Crisler Center has been postponed due to COVID-19 issues within the program.

According to a release, Michigan fell below the Big Ten's roster minimum of seven available scholarship players following medical testing on Friday night.

Michigan head coach Juwan Howard.

The Wolverines (7-6, 1-2 Big Ten) navigated last season and the first part of this season without any major COVID-related issues within the program until last week. They traveled to Orlando three days before their nonconference finale at Central Florida on Dec. 30. Most of the team flew back the next day and several players tested positive for COVID-19 upon returning to Ann Arbor on Dec. 31, according to sophomore center Hunter Dickinson.

That left Michigan shorthanded in Tuesday's loss at Rutgers. Four players and one staffer didn’t make the trip to New Jersey due to COVID: freshman guard Frankie Collins, sophomore forward Terrance Williams II, senior forward Brandon Johns Jr., senior walk-on forward Jaron Faulds and video analyst Jaaron Simmons. Sophomore guard Zeb Jackson also didn’t travel for personal reasons.

Two of those four Wolverines cleared COVID-19 protocols and were able to return on Saturday, while the team was waiting on test results for the other two players, a program spokesperson said on Friday morning. Two staffers were going to miss the game for medical reasons.

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On Friday, Michigan coach Juwan Howard didn’t specify which or how many players would be available for Saturday. He acknowledged his team had a difficult week of practice and hoped the Wolverines would have enough healthy bodies to play.

“We haven’t been good to go 100 percent,” Howard said. “We’ve been figuring out ways to navigate through what we’ve been dealt with COVID and the COVID protocol. We’re trying to stay afloat and stay ready, and day by day we’ll continue working to try to get to that point.

"I’ll be honest with you, it’s frustrating. It’s frustrating for us all in the sports world and non-sports world.”

Under the Big Ten’s updated forfeiture policy, at least seven scholarship players and one coach are required for a team to compete. The league reviews every game impacted by COVID and determines whether it can be rescheduled, declared a no-contest or declared a forfeit.

The policy states that if a team is under the threshold of available personnel and unable to play and the game can't be made up, it'll be a no-contest. The Big Ten also said that a team can play with lower numbers if approved by medical personnel.

Michigan State (13-2, 4-0) had its own COVID issues just before the end of the year, however, they weren't significant enough to keep the Spartans from playing games.

On Dec. 29 against High Point, Michigan State was without starters Marcus Bingham Jr. and Max Christie as well as freshman guard Pierre Brooks and walk-on Steven Izzo. The four missed only that game and were all available for each of Michigan State’s last two games — Jan. 2 at Northwestern and on Wednesday at home against Nebraska.

The Spartans haven’t had any issues with the roster since. Coach Tom Izzo and his on-court assistants have also been COVID free since the season began.

On Thursday, Izzo was asked if he was worried Saturday’s game wouldn’t be played.

“I have no idea,” Izzo said. “I think Michigan wants to play the game as bad as we want to play the game. If they don't have enough players and they postpone the game, they postpone the game. I have heard nothing on that.

“I would think that the guys that were out the last game with the new rules if they're vaccinated — I don't know that, either. I don't think any of us know anything about anybody. I got enough problems with my own team. We're gonna schedule to play the game. If that happens, it'll be great, and if it doesn't happen, it'll be postponed.”

It’s the second straight year the rivalry matchup in Ann Arbor has been pushed back. Last season, the February meeting had to be postponed after the Michigan athletic department followed a recommendation from the state health department and paused all athletic activities for two weeks. The game was eventually rescheduled for March and the teams played twice in four days.

The Big Ten will work with the schools to reschedule the contest. Michigan and Michigan State are slated to play in East Lansing on Jan. 29.

MSU's next game is Wednesday at home against Minnesota. UM is scheduled to host Purdue on Tuesday.

Staff writer Matt Charboneau contributed to this report.

Twitter: @jamesbhawkins