Six players between the two teams’ preseason projected starting lineups are nursing injuries. The injury bug leaves both the Hoosiers (16-7, 6-4) and Wolverines (13-9, 6-4) with short benches heading into the 1 p.m. matchup Sunday at Assembly Hall.
Each team is hurting and there’s nothing Michigan Coach John Beilein or IU Coach Tom Crean can do about it. Lesser-used role players have been tasked with weathering the storm.
Beilein’s players have been rallying around the “next man up” mentality. Crean prefers using “play on demand,” a phrase he heard from former Chicago Bulls Coach ?Scott Skiles.
Regardless of the terminology, both teams are suffering from the same problem.
“We are not a set rotation system,” Crean said. “(Play on demand) is something that our coaches are trying to teach and challenge our guys on the bench with.”
The challenge to the bench players is taking on new roles to fill in for their injured ?teammates.
Junior forward Hanner Mosquera-Perea remains out with a knee injury. He’s been replaced at center by sophomore Collin Hartman, but the undersized forward has struggled on the defensive end to contain much larger ?opponents.
Freshman guard Robert Johnson is playing, but still wears a large brace on his leg after an injury against Ohio State two weeks ago when he slipped on the baseline.
The latest injury to strike IU came to freshman guard James Blackmon Jr. The Hoosiers’ leading scorer missed Tuesday’s game against No. 5 Wisconsin nursing an ankle injury he suffered late in last Saturday’s game against Rutgers.
Blackmon Jr. was initially able to play through the pain immediately after suffering the ankle injury, but it flared up in the hours after. He didn’t practice Sunday or Monday, but made the trip to Wisconsin and participated in pregame warmups before the coaching staff made the decision to keep him out of the game.
Crean was optimistic that Blackmon Jr. would be ready for Sunday’s game against Michigan, but couldn’t speculate either way Tuesday.
“The bottom line is he wasn’t available,” Crean said. “So we’ve moved on. But hopefully he’ll be able to rehab and heal at a good rate so he’s ready for our next one.”
The Wolverines have had to reinvent themselves throughout the season suffering injury after injury.
Michigan is without projected NBA lottery pick Caris LeVert, Derrick Walton Jr. and D.J. Wilson. They may also be missing Mark Donnal and starting point guard Spike Albrecht is playing through a lower body injury that will require offseason surgery.
The biggest blows have been LeVert and Walton Jr. who were expected to become major contributors this season after losing Glenn Robinson III, Nik Stauskas, Mitch McGary, Tim Hardaway Jr. and Trey Burke to the NBA through the last two seasons.
Walton Jr.’s recovery timetable remains unclear, but it’s unlikely he’ll play against IU.
That puts a heavier load on guards Albrecht, Zak Irvin and Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman who will lead the Wolverines into Bloomington, where they’ll look to beat the Hoosiers at Assembly Hall for the first time since 2009.
“We’ve got to have more and more guys step up,” Albrecht said following last Sunday’s loss to Michigan State. “We have a little bit of a shorter rotation now and we’ve really got to make sure we’re taking care of ourselves — rest and recovery, things like that — with the limited roster.”