The most important player for Michigan as we head into Selection Sunday isn’t their Player of the Year point guard, Trey Burke, or their first-team all-Big Ten shooting guard, Tim Hardaway.
It isn’t Nik Stauskas and it isn’t Mitch McGary, either.
The guy that will be the determining factor in how far Michigan will end up going in the NCAA tournament is Glenn Robinson III.
And it’s simple, really. Michigan is not a very good defensive basketball team. They weren’t early in the year, and they’ve progressively gotten worse as teams have started to figure out where they are the most vulnerable. Just look at what happened to them on Friday. After Wisconsin started ice-cold from the field, scoring all of six points in the first 13:34 while shooting 3-20 from the floor, they still managed to take home a 68-59 win in the Big Ten quarterfinals. Robinson had eight points on 4-8 shooting, another quiet night that has become an all-too-familiar trend.
Michigan gave up 62 points in the final 26 minutes to Wisconsin, who shot 19-37 from the floor during that stretch. That’s bad.
So what’s wrong with the Wolverines? Well, McGary big and burly, but he doesn’t have the lateral quickness to guard in space. Burke can make plays defensively, but he gambles and can also be beaten off the dribble.
Perhaps most importantly, when Michigan is at their best, they have four perimeter players on the floor, meaning only one of McGary, Jordan Morgan and Jon Horford plays at one time. That puts them at a serious disadvantage in the paint regardless of who is on the court, whether Robinson is at the four or John Beilein is playing four guards.
Here’s the thing about Robinson, however: not only is he the biggest wing that Jon Beilein has at his disposal, but he’s also the most talented. So not only does he have the best chance at holding his own in the post and on the glass, he’s the most capable of taking advantage of a mismatch on the perimeter.
The problem is that he doesn’t do that often enough.
Robinson is a knockdown three point shooter that has terrific athleticism and length, and at 6-foot-7, he’s mobile enough to put the ball on the floor and get to the rim in a single dribble. But he settles, limiting himself to being nothing but a spot-up three-point shooter.
The whole reason that Michigan was considered a title contender was because they had NBA caliber athletes playing the same roles in the same offense that Beilein has always run. But when Robinson disappears and Michigan is forced to use Spike Albrecht at the two, sliding Hardaway and Stauskas to the forward spots, it takes some of that advantage away.
And it really hurts them defensively.
So unless GR3 decides to play like the potential first round pick that he is, Michigan is not going to live up to their potential.
You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.