Michigan coach talks about what his team learned in Thursday's home win over Penn State and looks ahead to Sunday's game against Indiana. James Hawkins, The Detroit News
Ann Arbor — The No. 2 Wolverines were able to find a way to win without sophomore forward and super sub Isaiah Livers.
Now, they might have to do it again.
Livers, who sat out Thursday's victory against Penn State with back spasms, will be a game-time decision for Sunday's top-25 showdown against No. 21 Indiana at Crisler Center.
“There doesn't seem to be any damage and now I think it's just trying to find out how to (manage pain). Some nerves are obviously giving him pain,” Michigan coach John Beilein said on Friday. “How is that happening and how can we reduce it as quickly as we can? I don't know if he'll do much today. We'll try to go out today and get him moving around a little bit. He'll be in therapy the next two days."
Beilein said he doesn’t recall Livers ever having back spasms before. He added he’s not sure what is causing the ailment — “could be the way he’s sleeping, who knows?” — but knows it was nothing that happened in practice.
“I do not expect this to be long term,” Beilein said. “Nothing came up that said, 'Wow, it might be a bigger problem.' But as a guy who actually missed a game as a coach one time with a bad back, I know how hard that can be."
Michigan (14-0, 3-0 Big Ten) was able to get by without Livers against Penn State thanks in large part to freshman forward Ignas Brazdeikis logging a season-high 38 minutes. Redshirt sophomore center Austin Davis served as the first big off the bench — a role typically reserved for Livers since he can play either forward spot and hold his own at center — and freshman forward Brandon Johns Jr. checked in for a pair of brief appearances at the four to give Brazdeikis a breather.
But getting past a Nittany Lions team that could defend but struggled mightily to score is one thing. The Hoosiers, who rank in the top 45 in KenPom's adjusted offensive and defensive efficiency, will be a trickier hurdle to clear.
Despite being hampered by injuries, Indiana (12-2, 3-0) has been able to ride freshman sensation Romeo Langford and senior forward Juwan Morgan — two of four Hoosiers who have played in every game this season — to seven straight wins heading into Ann Arbor.
That's why moving forward, Beilein is preparing for the unknown and is planning to install a package for Johns so he won't be caught by surprise if Livers is scratched before tip or can only play a reduced role.
“Going from very limited minutes to getting key minutes, that's going to be big and his improvement is going to be big for us at the five and the four,” sophomore guard Eli Brooks said of Johns.
“Brandon stepping up and Austin's minutes increasing, I think that'll help us down the stretch when we have to get deeper into the bench.”
With several other players able to slide up and down between positions, Beilein said he could possibly even play redshirt junior wing Charles Mathews and sophomore guard Jordan Poole together at the forward spots along with junior guard Zavier Simpson and Brooks.
“We’ve got to be versatile and be ready for everything,” Beilein said.
In the event Beilein needs to lean on Brazdeikis, the freshman is no stranger to dealing with the physical demands of a heavy schedule and is more than willing to log extensive minutes.
Brazdeikis said he felt “fresh” after playing all but two minutes against Penn State and credited all the work he put in during the summer to equip his body for the rigors of the Big Ten. It also helps Brazdeikis is a year older than most freshman and has the frame to handle it.
And if Livers is unable to go, it’s a situation Beilein feels will once again test his team’s mettle and could end up helping everyone improve moving forward.
“We have no choice right now but to make it a positive,” Beilein said. “If you look at this Indiana team, they've been decimated by injuries and they still only have two losses. They've been crushed.
“We've been blessed so if this is our only injury all year — like the same time Moe Wagner had the sprained ankle last year for two games. It made (Jon) Teske better. Somehow this is going to make somebody better or make us experiment maybe. Maybe this whole idea of Brandon playing more or Charles playing as a four man and really sizing down can make us even better.”
Indiana at Michigan
Tip-off: 4:30 p.m. Sunday, Crisler Center, Ann Arbor
Records: No. 2 Michigan 14-0, 3-0; No. 21 Indiana 12-2, 3-0
Outlook: Indiana freshman guard Romeo Langford (18.3 points, fifth) and senior forward Juwan Morgan (16.1 points, 13th) both rank in the top 15 in scoring in the Big Ten… This is the first top-25 matchup between the teams since 2013. … Michigan has won four straight in the series, including the last three meetings by double digits.