Glenn Robinson III is going through a slump similar to the one experienced by Tim Hardaway Jr. during his sophomore season at Michigan. (John T. Greilick / Detroit News)
Ann Arbor — When Glenn Robinson III stood at a podium last spring and announced he was returning to Michigan for another season, this probably wasn’t the scenario he envisioned.
Sure, the Wolverines are tied for first place in the Big Ten and appear poised to make another significant run in the postseason.
But Robinson hasn’t been a major factor in that success this season. He’s had some good games, but has been inconsistent for most of the Big Ten schedule. He’s averaging 12.9 points — up almost two points from last season — but he has scored more than 15 points only twice since Big Ten play began.
At the outset, Michigan was supposed to be a team anchored by Robinson and Mitch McGary, who eschewed the NBA draft for another year of seasoning. McGary, a preseason All-American, has played in only eight games after electing to have back surgery, but U-M has thrived in his absence, going 14-2 without him.
It was thought that Robinson would become Michigan’s go-to scorer, but he has been hesitant at times to get in the lane and take contact, and the Wolverines have suffered offensively. When he’s scored in double figures this season, they’re 14-2; they’re 4-4 when he scores below.
In the last four games, four players have led the team in scoring: Nik Stauskas, Caris LeVert, Robinson and Derrick Walton Jr. The Wolverines have made adjustments, but to be an elite team in the postseason, Robinson will need to pick up his production.
Coach John Beilein and his assistants have been working with Robinson in practice on his shot mechanics but the solution to his woes lies deeper. He seems to lose confidence when he doesn’t get into an offensive flow, which puts more pressure on others to spread the wealth.
It’s similar to the slump that Tim Hardaway Jr. had during his sophomore season — refining shot selection and consistency — two years ago before turning things around.
“We have talked about Tim and he and I are just trying to work through it, to make sure what’s a good shot for (Robinson),” Beilein said. “If I didn’t see what I see in practice, he wouldn’t be shooting threes or even 15-footers. In some games, it’s been difficult — the better start get gets off to, the better he usually is.
“He’s got to wipe out that whether he’s had a good start or bad start.”
Breaking down Robinson’s statistics, there are some glaring areas of concern. At the Crisler Center, he averages 15.8 points in 11 games; in true road games that number dips to 9.5. Some of the criticism against him is that he doesn’t play well in “big games.” In seven matchups against ranked teams, he’s averaging almost 11 points, just two fewer than his season mark.
The biggest change is in his field-goal percentage, which has fallen from 58 percent last year to 48 percent this year, along with a drop from 32 percent to 29 percent on 3-pointers. Even rebounding has dipped, from 5.4 last year to 4.3.
It’s not just a scoring mentality, though — Robinson needs to be a solid contributor in all aspects of his game for Michigan to have a shot of making another postseason run.
“He’s just got to continue to look at the basket, be aggressive, and (think), ‘If my shot isn’t dropping, how can I help the team in other ways?’” Beilein said. “Grabbing more rebounds or locking up on man — there’s other ways you can help the team win, even when you don’t feel it. If he concentrates on the things he can control — effort areas, defense — all that just happens.”
But the solution simply isn’t for Robinson to start shooting more. It’s more of working within the framework of the offense and letting the game come to him. When Stauskas, LeVert and Walton penetrate, it creates more opportunities for Robinson as a slasher, instead of him trying to create his own shot off the dribble.
“He can’t go into a game saying he has to score 10 points today because that’s our best chance of winning,” Beilein said. “The best chance is for us to guard and run the floor and let him play in space and look for his openings here and there. It works out for him but the other guys have to play around him too. He has to be aggressive, his teammates have to look for him, and we have to look for ways to utilize that great talent.”
Michigan’s last two games against ranked teams — Sunday against Wisconsin and next week against MSU — will provide Robinson ideal settings to turn his season around.
If not, he could be standing at the podium again this spring, announcing another return for next season.
No. 21 Wisconsin at No. 15 Michigan
Tip-off: 1 p.m. Sunday, Crisler Center, Ann Arbor
TV/radio: CBS/WWJ 950
Records: Wisconsin 20-5, 7-5 Big Ten; Michigan 18-6; 10-2
Notable: Wisconsin has four players averaging in double figures scoring -- Sam Dekker at 13.4, Ben Brust at 13.2, Frank Kaminsky at 12.5 and Traevon Jackson at 10.7.