For the first time this season, Glenn Robinson III showed up for Michigan.
In the first 20 minutes against No. 1 Arizona, Robinson had 16 points on 7-for-7 shooting, hitting step-back threes, scoring in transition and beating people off the dribble in the half court. He looked every bit the lottery pick that he’s been projected as being since Trey Burke started throwing him alley-oops.
And it’s no coincidence that, with Robinson playing like an all-american, the Wolverines were beating up on the Wildcats. Michigan took a 37-28 lead into the break, a score that was set when Robinson hit a deep, step-back triple over Aaron Gordon.
In the second half it was a different story. Robinson went back into hiding, taking just two shots from the floor in the second half — the only FG he made was an alley-oop when Arizona was short-handed as Kaleb Tarczewski lay on the floor after hurting his ankle — and scoring all of four points.
It should come as no surprise, then, that Arizona was able to scrap their way back to beat Michigan 72-70.
Much of that was a result of the Wildcats finally flexing their muscles in the paint, which was to be expected. Michigan gave up 17 offensive rebounds, but Arizona only had two second-chance points in the first half. That was bound to change. But when Arizona went big, Michigan was able to counter that by taking advantage of the matchup that Robinson has. Ashley couldn’t stay with him on the perimeter. His presence, his aggressiveness, forced Arizona to go small.
But in the second half, when he disappeared, the Wildcats were able to use that bigger lineup.
And while it may seem almost too convenient, the bottom line is that this game is a microcosm of all that is going wrong with Michigan this season. Without Trey Burke, Michigan has issues on the offensive end of the floor. I wrote all about them here, after watching the Wolverines lose to Duke. Burke made everyone on that team so much better.
To make up for his absence, Michigan needs Nik Stauskas, Caris LeVert and Robinson to be just that much more aggressive. They need those three to be able to attack off the dribble, to break down defenses and create scoring chances. Derrick Walton, their freshman point guard, certainly isn’t ready for that role. Spike Albrecht played great today, but he’s a guy that can take advantage of defenses geared towards stopping the talent surrounding him. He’s not going to be a guy that John Beilein builds his game-plan around.
Add in the struggles of Mitch McGary as he works his way into shape after an offseason back injury, and the Wolverines are essentially relying entirely on their three perimeter talents to create offense.
When Robinson is playing well, they are that much more difficult to guard.