Michigan's Glenn Robinson III has scored in double figures in six of his last seven games. (John T. Greilick / Detroit News)
Ann Arbor — So far, so good in Michigan’s Big Ten schedule.
The Wolverines have started the conference season with three wins, including close road wins at Minnesota and at Nebraska. With a five-game win streak, Michigan is building toward the tougher part of the Big Ten schedule, with three straight ranked opponents — at No. 3 Wisconsin, home against No. 14 Iowa and at No. 4 Michigan State upcoming.
But first, Michigan has a matchup Tuesday night with Penn State (9-8, 0-4 Big Ten). The Nittany Lions helped derail the Wolverines’ run toward a conference title last season, with an 84-78 upset win at Penn State.
“I definitely remember that game, that being a tough defensive game for us. We learned a lot as a team; that was the changing point for our season,” Glenn Robinson III said. “Still, that was a tough one to swallow for us. The guys that were here last year all remember that game.
“We’ll come ready to play and have a lot of energy. I’ve been waiting for this game a long time, actually.”
For Penn State coach Patrick Chambers, it’s not about using that win last season as motivation to get his players amped up for the Wolverines again. With three-point losses in its last two games, just being close enough and playing the underdog role doesn’t fly for Chambers anymore.
“I’m not going to use it at all; that was last year’s team. I don’t see Trey Burke and (Tim) Hardaway out there. Michigan is a different team and we’re a different team,” Chambers said. “I can’t continue to live on that win. I’m in Year Three now and we’re in our 17th game. It’s time for us to grow up and mature a little bit. Michigan has another great team and a great coach.”
For Robinson, the early-season struggles have turned to him being a focal part of Michigan’s offense. Against Nebraska, he had another breakout game, with 19 points on 9-of-12 shooting, showing all the facets of his game and displaying the assertiveness he hadn’t shown much of last season.
“I took a couple shots late in the shot clock, pull-up (jumpers) that I definitely wouldn’t have taken last year or maybe at the beginning of this season,” he said. “That comes a lot with confidence and I know I put in the hours and my teammates believe in me. Each practice is getting better for me and I think I’m getting more comfortable.”
Robinson has scored in double figures in six of the last seven games — and had six points in the first half at Minnesota before leaving because of an injury. He’s becoming U-M’s most consistent and most versatile scorer, hitting jumpers and drives, along with the occasional 3-pointer.
“In film, it’s a daily process, I’m watching and we tweak so many things every week of how we can get him into spaces that he really flourishes in,” coach John Beilein said. “(We) encourage his teammates to do that, then encourage him — he’s got to look for these opportunities where he has got to be more aggressive.
“It’s an everyday (thing) but it’s not today is the day we’re emphasizing only this. Every day, there’s some type of emphasis for finding more opportunities for him.”
Robinson said the missing component to his game early in the season was fun. Against Nebraska, he was smiling more and seemed to enjoy himself.
“I was talking to my old high school coach a couple weeks ago, and he said it doesn’t look like you’re having too much fun. Just try to smile more and see if that helps,” Robinson said. “That’s something I’ve been focusing on and maybe that’s why I’m having more success. The game’s slowed down a little for me and I’m more comfortable and I’m trying to have fun out there.
“That’s when I tend to play my best basketball, when I’m angry or when I’m just having fun. I had a little bit of both last game and it worked out well.”
Penn State at Michigan
Tipoff: 8 p.m. Tuesday, Crisler Center, Ann Arbor
Records: Penn State 9-8, 0-4 Big Ten; Michigan 11-4, 3-0
Outlook: The Nittany Lions have lost each of their last two games by three points each, at Minnestoa and at Indiana. Guards D.J. Newbill (17.3 points) and Tim Frazier (16.6) make up the No. 3 scoring backcourt duo in the country.