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Iowa Basketball: Implications of Michigan Athletic Department Pause

The Big Ten is about to have a big time scheduling issue.

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

While Iowa fans have been frustrated by COVID-19 related postponements in each of the last two weeks due to issues at Michigan State and Nebraska and even more frustrated by the performance of their Hawkeyes the last time they saw the floor against Indiana, Michigan fans are likely to be equally frustrated over the next few weeks.

Thanks to that miserable loss at home to the Hoosiers (who of course then fell on their faces over the weekend at home against Rutgers) last Thursday, as well as a win over Purdue on Friday night, Michigan starts this week with a full 1.5 game lead on Iowa in the Big Ten conference. At 8-1 in the conference, the Wolverines have already played one more game than Iowa has in conference (again, thanks to the postponements from Michigan State and Nebraska) and have one fewer loss.

As such, if both teams were to simply win the rest of their games, Michigan would be your Big Ten regular season champion. Winning out seems unlikely given how difficult this conference is, but that’s the math. But that math is about to get a bit more fuzzy.

Over the weekend, the University of Michigan announced an outbreak of the new COVID-19 variant that is reportedly more contagious and potentially more deadly within the athletic department.

The key takeaways of the above release come in the first paragraph:

University of Michigan Athletic Department will immediately pause athletic activities in all sports, including games, team and individual training sessions, until further notice and up to 14 days.

The entirety of Michigan athletics, including the wrestling team which was set to take on Iowa (and Illinois) this weekend, and the conference-leading men’s basketball team, is on pause for 14 days. No practices, no games, nothing.

So, what does that mean for Iowa? There are no firm answers as of yet, but we can start to speculate.

For starters, the Big Ten is in a heap of trouble. As noted, Iowa is already sitting on two games that need rescheduled and what we’ve seen from the conference to-date is troubling. The powers that be seem to be working in chronological order, rescheduling games for teams that hit pause first rather than looking at the bigger picture and finding options for all teams impacted.

Exhibit A: Iowa played just one game last week and is scheduled to play just one game this week. No games have been rescheduled or added in either of those weeks to account for the two games already missed.

Now, Michigan, the conference-leader, is going to have their next three games postponed, in addition to one already postponed against Penn State earlier this year. Those games were matchups against Indiana, at Northwestern and against Michigan State, which is already trying to find makeup dates for its games over the last couple weeks.

The first, logical implication for Iowa is we should see some shuffling of Iowa’s schedule for next week. The Hawkeyes travel to Illinois on Friday for their lone matchup against the Illini of the season. Then they’re off until February 4th, when they take on Ohio State, before going to Indiana on February 7th.

The Buckeyes are set to take on Penn State on Wednesday before hosting Michigan State on January 31st and finally traveling to Iowa on February 4th. For the Spartans, there’s a trip to Rutgers on Thursday, that trip to Ohio State on January 31 and then a home date with Nebraska on February 3rd before they get six days off thanks to the Michigan cancellation.

Long story short, Iowa and Michigan State have a game to makeup. They share an opponent over the next 10 days and after that, the Spartans have almost a week off. There’s a decent shot the Michigan postponements mean Iowa and Michigan State find a date between now and February 7th.

Bigger picture, the math for Michigan has gotten more difficult unless they can get those games rescheduled. As noted, the games that now need a new date are @Penn State, vs. Indiana, @Northwestern and vs. Michigan State. Those are all very winnable games for the Wolverines. Their next currently scheduled game is on February 11th against Illinois. They it’s off to Wisconsin, home against Rutgers, at Ohio State, at Indiana, home against Iowa and at Michigan State.

It’s one of the easier roads of the Big Ten contenders, but the easiest remaining stretch just gut cut out with games set to be played with limited practice against the Big Ten’s best and the potential for weeks of short rest.

Additionally, if Michigan doesn’t get those games rescheduled, their margin for error gets more narrow. As it stands, Iowa has ten games currently scheduled. Michigan has just seven. If the Wolverines lose just one, the Hawkeyes would jump them in the standings based on win percentage.

In other words, if neither Iowa nor Michigan have any changes to their schedule, Iowa would be your Big Ten champions if they win out (since the two teams play each other on March 4th, each would have 2 losses with Iowa holding a better win percentage and the head-to-head tie breaker). That math won’t change for Michigan unless the school can get at least three of their four postponed games rescheduled. If Iowa gets any games rescheduled, Michigan needs to add one as well to keep pace in win percentage.

Of course, the math all goes out the window as soon as teams start losing (it is worth noting that Michigan would still need to run the table except against Iowa, which is the deciding matchup in all this, even if Iowa were to drop another game along the way). But after a frustrating loss to Indiana last week, Hawkeye fans have some fresh hope this week as they still control their own destiny in the Big Ten conference.