Losing Caris LeVert for remainder the season is the big blow for Michigan's dwindling postseason hopes. But it turns out that it's not the only health issue facing the Wolverines with just 12 games remaining in the regular season.
UM (11-7, 4-2 Big Ten) already was without Spike Albrecht, who had an upper-respiratory infection, in Saturday's win over Northwestern. Starting center Ricky Doyle played just 10 minutes because of similar respiratory issues, and Zak Irvin had been taking medication after showing symptoms last week.
Coach John Beilein revealed Monday that starting point guard Derrick Walton Jr. still is hobbled by his injured toe and freshman Kameron Chatman suffered a knee injury in Saturday's game.
"We have more injured or sick players than we have healthy players right now," Beilein said Monday via teleconference, noting that Chatman, Albrecht, Walton and Doyle did not practice Sunday. "We'll see what we have today…We may be way down in our healthy roster but we'll just press on and do the best we can."
How dire has the situation gotten? The Wolverines, who have used assistant coach LaVall Jordan on the scout team in the past, now are pressed into using former players and team managers to help them have enough healthy players to practice.
Beilein said he hasn't seen a depleted roster like this since his days at Richmond, where he showed up to play St. Bonaventure with eight healthy players. This time, there's a reprieve.
"There's a great rule where we can occasionally use a former player, so David Merritt (who played at UM from 2006-09) is going to practice with us today," Beilein said. "We're going to try to put on the squad list a couple of managers who played in high school."
If Michigan is to stay in the Big Ten race, though, it will have to get more contributions from its bench players, to offset LeVert's loss, beginning with Tuesday's matchup at Rutgers.
LeVert's loss will be a challenge to overcome, as he led the team in points (14.9), rebounds (4.9), assists (3.7), steals (1.7) and minutes played (35.8). Beilein said LeVert's latest injury is a complete fracture in his left foot — the same foot and same bone in which LeVert sustained a stress fracture near the end of last season and kept LeVert out for most of the summer.
LeVert is scheduled to have surgery this week and faces a 12-week recovery and rehabilitation period. It's unclear whether LeVert, who had himself evaluated for a possible early entry to the NBA draft last season, will return for his senior season at UM.
"We have to regroup and try to get better every single day with Caris out for the season," Beilein said. "It's a great opportunity — that's what I told the team yesterday. Caris took 19 shots (Saturday), so there are 19 shots available. He played 39 minutes, so there's 39 minutes available.
"As bad as we feel for Caris, great opportunity for other young men to grow."
Any potential starting lineup remains up in the air, but the gaping hole at shooting guard will be a particular concern.
"A lot depends on Spike Albrecht's status (Monday)," Beilein said. "He's been cleared to give it a shot and see how he feels. Derrick Walton, I'm not sure what he's going to be able to in practice because that foot was very sore (Sunday)."
Beilein conceded that Aubrey Dawkins likely would take over at one forward spot beside Irvin and hoped that Doyle would be able to remain at center.
With Irvin (13.9 points) as the leading remaining scorer, Michigan likely will lean on him more to carry the scoring load. Irvin has struggled in recent games, going 8-of-25 from the field and 3-of-15 on 3-pointers.
"It's our job to try and get him opportunities. He's a heck of a player and there's 19 more shots, a whole lot more rebounds and a whole lot more assists because Caris will not be providing that for us," Beilein said. "It's a great opportunity for Zak to continue to grow in his game."
The Wolverines have been somewhat limited off the bench this season but the spate of injuries also means that seldom-used reserve Sean Lonergan will get a chance to contribute. Lonergan, a 6-foot-5 sophomore, has played in 17 games in his career, including six this season. He's totaled eight career points, with two against Nicholls State on Nov. 29.
"He's been practicing every day for it. This actually excites me that they get this opportunity to get in and play," Beilein said. "He's been trying to do this on the scout team — we have a tremendous scout team — and he's a big part of that. He's going to get in there and have to back some people up and get some minutes and play."
Michigan at Rutgers
Tipoff: 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Rutgers Athletic Center, Piscataway, N.J.
Records: Michigan 11-7, 4-2 Big Ten; Rutgers 10-9, 2-4
Outlook: It's the first Big Ten meeting between the schools. Michigan has won all five previous games in the series. The Scarlet Knights pulled the biggest upset in the league, a stunner over Wisconsin, but have lost three of the last four.