NCAA Tournament 2018: How Duncan Robinson became Michigan’s not-so-secret March weapon

LOS ANGELES — Duncan Robinson has already watched his college basketball life — from Williams College to Michigan to the bright lights of Madison Square Garden — flash before his very eyes.

The rest, at this point, is gravy. House money, baby.

“I’m hoping, praying to get something,” Robinson, the Wolverines’ fifth-year senior swing man, told Land of 10, reflecting on the sobering final few minutes he spent disqualified on the bench at the tail end of the Michigan-Houston thriller last Saturday night.

“It’s an incredibly helpless feeling having fouled out, looking at the final seconds of your career maybe tick off the clock.”

One minute, you’re planning the eulogy.

Some 3.6 seconds and one Jordan Poole 3-pointer later, you’re planning a party and a flight to Southern California.

In spite of it all, you wake up on a soggy Friday morning in Los Angeles still dancing, still alive in the NCAA Tournament, one victory away from the Final Four.

“To have Jordan step in and do that,” Robinson laughed, “man, it’s incredible.”

So is this stat:

When Robinson, the 6-foot-8 New Englander, scores 6 or more points this season, Michigan is 27-0.

When it’s 5 points or fewer, 4-7.

‘What we found is this skinny little kid that came from a Division III school has been really good playing a physical defense in the post. He’s finally gotten to the point where he’s one step ahead of the offense.’

— Michigan coach John Beilein on senior swing man Duncan Robinson

Crazy, crazy digits.

Then again, it’s been a crazy March.

“He is so into Michigan winning,” Wolverines coach John Beilein said of Robinson, who dropped 10 points on Texas A&M at Staples Center off the bench, all in the first half, to help propel third-seeded Michigan (31-7) to a West regional showdown with ninth-seeded Florida State (23-11) on Saturday night. “That’s all he cares about.

“You know, a lot of kids can’t even get to an NCAA Tournament. The kid went to the championship game at Williams, right? And now he’s been to the Sweet 16 and an Elite Eight. In his four years, he’s had a pretty good four years of college basketball.”

When Robinson transferred in four years ago from Division III Williams — a prestigious liberal arts school in Williamstown, Mass., whose mascot is, we kid thee not,  a purple cow — after dominating at the small-college level, eyebrows went up. Now, he’s part of the furniture.

A stretch-4 who can body up a man in the paint and make it rain from the corner, the New Hampshire native has excelled as a spark plug off the bench. Robinson has averaged 9.6 points per contest while being tapped as the Big Ten’s Sixth Man of the Year by league coaches.

No. 22 is Michigan’s Swiss Army knife, a tool with the kind of versatility Beilein can insert into the action when the narrative dictates. The Wolverines have found their stride over the last five weeks with the more athletic, defensive-minded Isaiah Livers starting at the 4 spot and Robinson coming in to provide a caffeine jolt after the contest is a few minutes old.

Although sometimes the coffee can come on a little too strong. Robinson was slapped with 4 fouls in 25 minutes of action in a first-round win over Montana, fouled out after 30 minutes against Houston in the second round and got whistled for four more fouls in just 20 minutes Thursday night against A&M.

“Man, that’s just silly on my part, quite honestly,” the Michigan senior sighed. “Just some recklessness. Coach Yak [assistant coach Luke Yaklich] will definitely be in my ear these next couple days, as well as Coach B. I can’t keep doing that. I can’t keep putting my team in that situation.

“It was just carelessness on my part, just getting handsy. When you know they’re going to call those fouls and you still do it, it’s just mindless basketball.”

It’s a fine line, one that Robinson ordinarily has found himself on the right side of as of late. What was No. 22’s biggest liability — stopping anybody — is now one of his strengths.

Crazy stat No. 2: Last winter, Robinson scored a 107.4 defensive rating — as in, points surrendered per 100 possessions — by Sports-Reference.com, the third-worst grade on the Michigan roster. This season, that number’s down to 99.2, the second-largest single-season improvement of any of the Wolverines’ top four returning scorers from 2017-18:

“I think the biggest thing is the way he’s guarded the ball screen,” Beilein explained. “We haven’t switched as much with him. We have really put him basically guarding a lot of pretty big 4 men, and he had to guard one [Thursday].

“But what we found is this skinny little kid that came from a Division III school has been really good playing a physical defense in the post. He’s finally gotten to the point where he’s one step ahead of the offense.”

And the offense has finally gotten to the point where San Antonio is almost close enough to reach out and touch.

“That first week was a little bit uglier,” Robinson noted with an understated grin. “[Thursday], obviously, there were some long 3s, there were some dunks and maybe [it was] a little bit more aesthetically pleasing.

“But it’s fun to be a part of all [of those] games. A win is a win at this time of year.”

The post NCAA Tournament 2018: How Duncan Robinson became Michigan’s not-so-secret March weapon appeared first on Land of 10.

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