Michigan's Isaiah Livers says return for NCAA Tournament would be 'miraculous'
Anything can happen during March Madness.
Unbelievable upsets. Improbable comebacks. Incredible postseason runs. And maybe the return of Michigan senior forward Isaiah Livers?
"We could put it to a chance,” Livers said Monday on WTKA’s “The Michigan Insider” show. “I wouldn't say it's expected, just talking with the doctors and talking with Coach (Juwan) Howard. But if I do (return), that's miraculous.”
Livers is sidelined indefinitely with a stress fracture in his right foot, an injury that was revealed by an MRI after Michigan’s Big Ten tournament quarterfinal win over Maryland on Friday.
Livers first noticed something didn’t feel right in the Dec. 31 win at Maryland. When the discomfort lingered, he thought it was just a bruise or foot soreness and kept pushing through. But it got worse in Friday’s game and he came up limping after a transition play on defense.
At that point, Livers said he realized he needed to sit and get his foot looked at. After receiving the diagnosis, he has been in a walking boot and has started rehabbing with trainer Alex Wong, a process that will include running on an underwater treadmill to keep weight off his foot.
Livers said the injury will have to be evaluated daily “to figure out what’s going on with it.” Still, he hasn’t completely ruled himself out depending on how long Michigan lasts in the NCAA Tournament.
The Wolverines open play on 3 p.m. Saturday in a No. 1 vs. No. 16 matchup against the play-in winner of Mount St. Mary's and Texas Southern. If they advance to the Sweet 16 on March 27-28, it would mark two weeks since Livers aggravated his foot. If Michigan reaches the Final Four on April 3, it'd be three weeks.
“The world is full of possibilities. You honestly never know, but it's definitely one of those things where it takes a minute to fully recover,” Livers said. “That will be the huge question. Coach Howard, my family and my trainer will speak of that in the coming weeks. If I can feel good enough, if I feel good to go, then you know I'm out there because we're going to make a tourney run and I want to be with this team."
During a Monday Zoom call, CBS Sports college basketball analyst Wally Szczerbiak said the Wolverines could contend for the national title with Livers, who is the team's second-leading scorer and top 3-point shooter.
But without him, Szczerbiak said Michigan’s ceiling is the Elite Eight.
“He does everything out there,” Szczerbiak said, citing Livers’ versatility, offensive production and experience. “They're absolutely not the same team without him.”
While Szczerbiak isn’t alone in that projection, Livers has taken notice of those who have already written off the Wolverines as a title contender.
“I keep seeing all this stuff about without Isaiah Livers and all this crap, but this team is very high-level, very elite,” Livers said. “They have habits. They practice hard. They're built for it. I'm going to be there 110% supporting and being the best coach I can on the sideline. We've got a lot of weapons.”
One of those is junior forward Brandon Johns Jr., who is no stranger to filling in for Livers. Johns slid into the starting lineup 10 times last season when Livers was injured, posted four double-digit outings and came through on numerous occasions.
Johns did so again in Saturday’s Big Ten tournament semifinal loss to Ohio State and was solid in a season-high 24 minutes, tallying seven points — all on free throws — eight rebounds and two assists.
“He's a willing learner. I think that's what good about Brandon Johns that people don't know about,” Livers said. “He retains a bunch of information and tries to apply it out there. Gives effort, I think that's the No. 1 thing. Another thing about Brandon Johns is he's going to give effort no matter what. He's got that big body. He's going to be down there diving on loose balls, grabbing rebounds, trying to dunk on people, knocking down shots.
“I told him the other day your time is now. This is the time for you to show the world that Brandon Johns is here. He hasn't just been chilling at Michigan. All that work he's putting in, he's ready to display it. I hope the world is ready to see Brandon Johns.”
But it’s not all on Johns to fill Livers’ shoes. With a two-way player of Livers’ caliber, it’s going to take a collective effort for the Wolverines to replace what they’ve lost until they can possibly, hopefully, get back to full strength.
“Obviously if you miss any type of starter guy…it does put a little bit more on the starters or the other people that are playing,” Livers said. “My message to them when we start this NCAA tourney is play Michigan basketball. Don't put no pressure or any labels on you. Don't try to compare or live up to anybody else. Just be yourself. That's what got us here.”