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How Michigan responded to playing a basketball game on short notice

Juwan Howard and the Wolverines treated it like March Madness.

Toledo v Michigan Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

The Michigan Wolverines had a hunch that they would not be playing its originally-scheduled game against North Carolina State on Wednesday but did not find out until 1.5 days before that it was officially off and they would have to find a new opponent.

So they went to work.

Head coach Juwan Howard and his staff moved quickly to work with Toledo to get Wednesday’s game scheduled. The work paid off in a 91-71 victory for the Maize and Blue.

“It seemed like (Howard) was ready for it,” senior forward Isaiah Livers said after the victory on Wednesday night. “It seemed like he had Toledo on the back of his mind already because there were rumors. Other than that, Coach Howard, he’s always ready, he’s always ready for the sudden change, anything that happens he’s gonna prepare us. He’s the type of guy, type of coach that wants you to be a great man off the court, great man on the court. And that’s just doing all the little things and being the best person that you can each day. And he will hold you accountable, as you know.”

“We knew because they had a different testing than us that it was going to be unlikely but we still prepared for them anyway with our two-day prep. And then (the day we found out about the change), we came in and Coach Howard told us as we were about to watch film and we were just watching — we didn’t watch any film on anything. We weren’t prepared two days ago for this game. So we were just focused on ourselves because as Coach Howard says, at the end of the day that’s what we have.”

Sophomore forward Franz Wagner praised his team’s approach with just over a day to prepare for Toledo but saw opportunities for improvement even in a blowout win. He still did not think their preparation was all that different than normal.

“We got the scouting report a little later than normal but I think we have a great staff, great manager staff, who did an excellent job of getting all the important information as quickly to us as possible,” he said. “We talked about, this is like how the NCAA Tournament’s gonna be, so that’s kind of how we approach everything. And I think we were well-prepared for it. But a lot of things, obviously we can do a lot of things better, but at least we knew what their main ideas were, how to play and what their main schemes were.”

Despite not getting the chance to coach in March Madness due to the pandemic, Howard is no stranger to prepping on a quick turnaround. His team played three games in three days during last season’s Battle 4 Atlantis in the Bahamas, winning the tournament in impressive fashion. In his eyes, what his team had to go through this week was similar to the rapid pace of championship season.

“It was similar to an NCAA format,” Howard said after the game. “I think it was great for us, too, to have a game where we don’t lose a game. We obviously lose an opponent we were scheduled to play. But the scramble and I give Chris Hunter, our (director of basketball of operations), a lot of credit for pivoting and finding an opponent for us. Thank you, Toledo for taking the game as an opportunity for both parties involved. Having a one-day prep was a great test for us and our staff. A lot of work for our video coordinator. All hands on deck, we were able to pull it off. It was awesome to see our guys apply one day of teaching.”

Unfortunately, the chances are high that this is something that persists through a season that is being played through the pandemic. What went down with the schedule this week served as a reminder to stay on your toes for the Michigan basketball team.

“It’s an unpredictable world that we live in right now,” Livers said. “It’s important that we just stay ready. We don’t know what’s gonna happen. We had one there could be more down the road, you never know but like Coach Howard says, always be prepared for the change and be ready to adjust.”

Regardless of the opponent, Livers says he will prepare for each team the same and he still went into Wednesday with the same mindset he would have brought into a game against the Wolfpack.

“No disrespect to Toledo but in my mind, I was already to play NC State,” he said. “I’m not gonna change it cause we play a low to mid-major team. You gotta come out and practice these habits and act prepared like you’re playing a high major or like someone said earlier, an NCAA Tournament game cause that’s what it’s gonna be like and Toledo’s actually gonna be a really good team, a really hard team to beat in the MAC conference. So shoutout to them for giving us a game cause we could’ve had practice today.”

Next up for the Wolverines is a tilt with Penn State at Crisler on Sunday to open Big Ten conference play. Tipoff is scheduled for 2 p.m. ET with the broadcast taking place on Big Ten Network.