Michigan Wolverines forward Glenn Robinson III has had a reputation to live up to from the start of his basketball career as the son of a two-time NBA All-Star and former top overall draft pick.
Ever since Robinson embarked on his collegiate journey to Ann Arbor from Lake Central High School (Saint John, Ind.) as a 5-star recruit, expectations have been exponential. Results have been mixed through almost two college seasons, but Robinson has the upside and natural talent to keep pushing the boundaries of how good he can be.
Given how rather meager the most recent NBA draft was, there was a real possibility Robinson could have been a first-round pick.
However, he elected to stay with the Wolverines and develop under coach John Beilein. That's resulted in Robinson taking on a bigger role in the offense, yet he's seen an overall decline in shooting percentage. Robinson is also averaging one fewer rebound per game than in his freshman season.
UMHoops.com's Dylan Burkhardt wrote a detailed evaluation of Robinson's season, rattling off a lot of the scrutiny he's faced at the beginning, including this from ESPN's Jeff Goodman back in December:
Several NBA guys I talked to in attendance for Michigan-Duke were obviously disappointed in Glenn Robinson III's lack of assertiveness.— Jeff Goodman (@GoodmanESPN) December 5, 2013
Who will have the best overall NCAA tournament for Michigan?
An adversity-stricken 2013-14 campaign has come to a conclusion, and now Michigan is gearing up for a Big Ten conference tournament, where it can make a final bid to improve its seeding in the upcoming NCAA tournament.
The absence of standout sophomore big man Mitch McGary has forced others to step up, and it's a chemistry issue the Wolverines have overcome en route to a regular-season conference championship. Now is the time for Robinson to assert himself, and he's proven capable of carrying his crew in crunch time.
Despite being just a 27.3 percent three-point shooter for the season, Robinson nailed a big shot from downtown in defeating Indiana 84-80 on Saturday at the Crisler Center. The three broke a tie with just over a minute left in a game that saw the home favorites trailing by six at halftime, per TheWolverine.com's Chris Balas:
Robinson III's huge triple from the corner at 1:07 gives U-M a three-point lead after IU ties it.— Chris Balas (@Balas_Wolverine) March 9, 2014
Heroics from Robinson came not long before then when he hit a buzzer-beating, game-winning shot to knock off Purdue in overtime on Feb. 26:
Rising to the occasion is something the 20-year-old has failed to do too often given his talent level, but it appears Robinson is turning a corner—and it couldn't come at a better time.
Following the game-winner at Purdue, ESPN.com's Myron Medcalf analyzed the complex situation surrounding Robinson and the legacy he has to uphold in light of his father's accomplishments:
...Robinson is a sophomore who is still figuring things out. If his father weren’t a former No. 1 pick, if there wasn’t NBA chatter hovering over his season and a national title game appearance inked onto his resume, it’d be easier to acknowledge that his struggles are the norm for most underclassmen. That’s not an excuse; just the truth. He was on the drums last season, but everyone expected him to play lead guitar this one. Sure, he can do it. But that’s a tremendous chasm for any young player to navigate.
Wolverines star Nik Stauskas led all scorers with 21 points against the Hoosiers, but Robinson had 20 of his own and was aggressive in getting to the charity stripe, where he converted seven of eight free throws. That should help dismiss concerns that Robinson is having trouble fitting in, is being over-analytical in his approach or is being too passive.
After the win was secured, Robinson reflected on what beating Indiana meant and how he wanted to win it for fifth-year senior Jordan Morgan, per the Associated Press:
No one believed in this team, not after we lost Trey (Burke) and Timmy (Hardaway), and then had Mitch (McGary) go down with his back injury. We wanted to win this for J-Mo, and most of us had never beaten Indiana, so we wanted to take care of that.
If the doubt surrounding the team had helped fuel Robinson during his sophomore year, it was hard to see the results of that added motivation for much of this season. Caris LeVert instead has emerged as the Wolverines' No. 2 scoring option, but this is an offense that ranks third nationally and could be even better if Robinson plays as well as he has down the stretch.
These past couple of weeks have served as a key step in Robinson's evolution, especially from a mental standpoint.
Beilein emphasized another theme that was appropriate for both Robinson as an individual and the Michigan squad as a whole: the need to finish strong. In light of Robinson's tiebreaker from downtown, it made sense:
Our motto since we came here has always been "finish it strong." We wanted to do that for the regular season, but we also wanted to win this for Jordan and we wanted to win it for our fans, who came out every night during a horrible winter to support us.
Those have been criticisms heaped on him before. Robinson seems to be shattering the mold in a rapid maturation that coincides with the most critical part of the season.
With all that being taken into consideration, few players are bigger X-factors than Robinson as March Madness commences. All signs point to a breakout performance in which Robinson boosts the Wolverines from good to great and helps them return to the Final Four.
Robinson has the opportunity to silence his harshest critics in the coming weeks, and based on his form and steady increase in confidence, it wouldn't be wise to bet against him.
Projected NCAA tournament numbers (per game): 14.5 points, 6.0 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 1.0 steals