Michigan vs. Purdue: Why Glenn Robinson III Is the Key to U-M's Title Hopes

Avi Wolfman-ArentCorrespondent IIJanuary 24, 2013

ANN ARBOR, MI - JANUARY 06:  Glenn Robinson III #1 of the Michigan Wolverines gets in for a first half dunk next to Gabriel Olaseni #0 of the Iowa Hawkeyes at Crisler Center on January 6, 2013 in Ann Arbor, Michigan. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Midway through the second half of Thursday's Big Ten tilt between second-ranked Michigan and unrated Purdue, the Boilermakers held a 40-39 lead over their heavily favored hosts.

Then, from somewhere deep within the bubbling lull of a game that should have never been close, came the long-awaited Big Burst. According to ESPN's play-by-play script, it went something like this:

Glenn Robinson III made Three Point Jumper. Assisted by Trey Burke.

Nik Stauskas made Tip Shot.

Trey Burke made Layup.

Glenn Robinson III made Three Point Jumper. Assisted by Trey Burke.

By flurry's end, Michigan was up nine and the student section was in full romp. Purdue would get no closer than five the rest of the way as Michigan coasted to a 68-53 win.

Two things worth noting about the above sequence:

1. All of the scoring and assisting was done by Michigan's highly touted four-man backcourt.

2. The run began and ended with three-pointers from Glen Robinson III, yet another sign that U-M's freshman standout is the linchpin player for a team with Final Four aspirations.

All in all, Thursday was productive night for Robinson III, but not an altogether unusual one. The 6'6" guard/forward went 4-of-6 from the field, finished with 12 points and threw down one particularly hellacious baseline jam.

Perhaps the fact that he did it against his dad's alma mater made the evening a bit sweeter, but like I said, nothing out of the ordinary for a player who has now reached double figures in 12 of his first 19 collegiate games.

Particularly impressive is Robinson III's offensive efficiency. According to kenpom.com, the Indiana native ranks among the nation's top 50 in true shooting percentage (41st), effective field-goal percentage (35th) and adjusted offensive efficiency (26th).

Robinson III certainly profits from playing alongside the dynamic backcourt combo of Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr., but it should also be said that both of those high-usage guards benefit from Robinson III being so productive with the touches he gets.

Robinson III's ability to score without dominating the ball is a big reason why the Michigan offense has been among the nation's best this season.

But where Robinson III means the most to Michigan is not as an third or fourth offensive option, but rather as a versatile defender capable of banging bodies in the paint.

If the Wolverines have an Achilles heel this year it's defense, where they rank just 41st in adjusted defensive efficiency. For some historical perspective, consider that since 2003, when kenpom.com began tracking the statistic, not a single eventual champion has finished worse than 19th in defensive efficiency—and the vast majority ranked somewhere in the top 10.

Based on that precedent, Michigan has some work to do. Robinson III represents the Wolverines' best chance to do it.

Michigan's relative struggles on the defensive end are in part attributable to a lack of size.

On Thursday, the Wolverines' starting lineup featured Trey Burke (6'0"), Tim Hardaway Jr. (6'6"), Nik Stauskas (6'6"), Jordan Morgan (6'8") and Glenn Robinson III. Those five played a combined 156 of the 200 available minutes. Take Morgan out of the mix, and the remaining four sat for a combined 18 minutes the entire game.

Playing Burke, Hardaway Jr., Stauskas and Robinson III together gives coach John Beilein enviable offensive possibilities, but also leaves him with precious little rim protection. Neither Morgan nor freshman reserve Mitch McGary (6'10") is capable of defending the paint by his lonesome.

Enter Robinson III.

Of the three starting players listed at 6'6", Robinson III is the only one with the athleticism and build to guard the forward position. If Beilein sticks with small ball—and why wouldn't he considering the results?—it's Robinson III who'll be tasked with guarding 'tweeners like Ohio State's Deshaun Thomas and even true post players like Minnesota's Trevor Mbakwe.

That's a lot to lay on a debutante, but Robinson III's bloodline suggests he's up to the challenge. And his play to this point hasn't been far behind.