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Michigan basketball inching toward full strength as MSU matchup looms

James Hawkins
The Detroit News

The Michigan men’s basketball team could be closer to full strength for Saturday’s game against Michigan State.

According to a Michigan spokesperson, two of the four players who missed Tuesday’s game at Rutgers because of COVID-19 have cleared protocol and will return to the lineup for the rivalry matchup at Crisler Center.

The team is also waiting on test results for the other two Wolverines, meaning it’s possible freshman guard Frankie Collins, sophomore forward Terrance Williams II, senior forward Brandon Johns Jr. and senior walk-on forward Jaron Faulds could all be back in uniform.

From left, Michigan forward Moussa Diabate (14), Zeb Jackson and Terrance Williams II (5) exit the court after the loss.

“We haven't been good to go 100 percent (in practice),” coach Juwan Howard said Friday. “We've been figuring out ways to navigate what we've been dealt with, with COVID and the COVID protocol. We're trying to stay afloat and stay ready, which day by day we'll continue to keep working to try to get to that point. I'll be honest with you, it's frustrating, but it's frustrating for us all in the sports world and non-sports world.”

Howard declined to specify which players will be available. However, two staffers will miss the contest due to medical reasons.

Against the Scarlet Knights, the Wolverines were without their backup point guard (Collins) and their two main frontcourt reserves (Johns and Williams). Sophomore guard Zeb Jackson also didn’t make the trip to Rutgers due to personal reasons — his status for Saturday is unclear — leaving freshman guard Kobe Bufkin as the lone regular reserve in the rotation.

More: Izzo, Michigan State not taking Michigan lightly ahead of Saturday's rivalry game

As a result, Howard had to dig deeper into his bench and played just eight players, turning to sophomore guard Jace Howard (eight minutes) and senior guard Adrien Nunez (four minutes) at times. Michigan’s starting lineup wasn’t impacted, and all five starters played between 31 and 38 minutes.

“I've always been a big fan of how our guys have been able to deal with adversity,” Howard said. “We have a type of mentality within our group where we roll up our sleeves and embrace the suck.

Against the Scarlet Knights, the Wolverines were without their backup point guard (Collins), pictured, and their two main frontcourt reserves (Johns and Williams).

“We're not an excuse-based type of group. What we have and who is available to play, we trust that each and every guy is going to play hard, play together, play smart, and play to win.”

Following the Rutgers loss, sophomore center Hunter Dickinson said the team knew it was going to be shorthanded. When the Wolverines returned from their game at Central Florida, they were tested for COVID-19 on Dec. 31 and several players were positive.

Under the Big Ten’s forfeiture policy, a team must have at least seven players and one coach available in order to play a game.

“We meet the criteria. We met the criteria on Tuesday versus Rutgers,” Howard said. “We haven't gotten to tomorrow yet, but I pray to God that we have healthy bodies to compete tomorrow.”

jhawkins@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @jamesbhawkins

Michigan State at Michigan

Tip-off: 2:30 p.m., Saturday, Crisler Center, Ann Arbor

TV/radio: Fox/760, 950

Records: No. 10 Michigan State 13-2, 4-0 Big Ten; Michigan 7-6, 1-2

Outlook: This is Michigan’s first game against a ranked opponent this season. The Wolverines have lost five of the past seven meetings in the rivalry series, but they’ve won seven of the last 11 matchups in Ann Arbor. …Michigan State is 3-0 in true road games, with wins at Butler, Minnesota and Northwestern. The Spartans lead the Big Ten and rank second in the nation with 95 blocked shots.