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How Michigan basketball responds after hiatus will define season

There is one of two routes the Wolverines can take.

NCAA Basketball: Michigan at Purdue Marc Lebryk-USA TODAY Sports

The Michigan Wolverines were on a roll to open up the season. A 13-1 record and three very impressive wins over top 25 opponents earned the team a top five ranking in the AP Poll. Then, the hot streak was stunted by COVID-related issues and the university placed all winter sports on pause.

In the time since, the Wolverines have postponed games against Indiana, Northwestern and the highly-anticipated bouts with Michigan State and Illinois in nearly two weeks of absence. If Michigan does return to the court against Wisconsin on the 14th, it will have been 23 days since Juwan Howard and his players had last competed on the court.

There is only one other top 25 team that had as long of a delay to their season and that is the Villanova Wildcats. The No. 3 team in the country went 27 days between two conference wins against Marquette and Seton Hall. Altogether, the Wildcats have had 11 games postponed or canceled this year. Yet, up until a blunder earlier this week against St. John’s, they had only one loss on the season. Their resiliency and production made them an easy candidate to be a top five team.

Like the Wolverines, Villanova was not allowed to practice due to an outbreak within their program. They first practiced on Jan. 14, five days before their two point win over a good Seton Hall team at home. Then, they went on to win two more games and had a three game winning streak going over a period of time where seven of their 10 scheduled games has been postponed.

The Wildcats set a blueprint for what the Wolverines seem to be doing. Phil Martelli told Matt Norlander of CBS Sports the team will be allowed to begin practicing again on Monday at midnight.

A game on Thursday would have been much too quick of a turnaround for a team that had not taken the court together in 15 days. This made a battle on the road against the Badgers on Feb. 14 the next logical game to restart the season.

The Wolverines can’t miss a beat from the start they jumped to before the break. Three of their final six games currently scheduled are against top 25 opponents. The three remaining games against non-ranked teams are still projected by Andy Katz to make the NCAA Tournament. There is simply no let up in an increasingly challenging Big Ten Conference.

The fear would be going on a run like Texas has recently been, but under slightly different circumstance. The Longhorns have missed three of their last five games due to other programs having positive cases. After not playing for 10 days, they had a rude awakening against their rival Oklahoma who beat them by one point. Texas went from that loss to missing a game that likely would have been a get-right game against a bad Kentucky team that had lost four of their last five games. Instead, the Longhorns went from losing to Oklahoma to being outmatched by No. 2 Baylor in consecutive losses on their home court. At 11-4 now, and losing back-to-back games, Texas will likely drop considerably from their No. 6 ranking.

If Michigan wants to keep its crown as the top team in the Big Ten, they are going to have to go through the most grueling stretch of their schedule after missing a considerable amount of time. A response like Villanova had to the adversity would be the most ideal and would amplify the national media’s attention to the Wolverines.

Conversely, cracking under the pressure of good opponents could lead to a scenario like Texas is currently working through. Costly slip ups against some of the nations top teams could result in losing a few seeds in the NCAA Tournament and potentially knocking themselves out of contention for a Big Ten regular season championship crown.

Franz Wagner summed it up nicely on Brian Boesch’s Defend The Block podcast saying, “It’s definitely going to be a challenge getting back... It’s not going to be easy. If everybody does their job this next week, we should be ready to go.”