Two years ago, on the first Sunday of March, Duncan Robinson crammed into his coaches’ offices with his Williams College teammates as they awaited their fate in the Division III NCAA Tournament.
There was no fancy primetime two-hour Selection Sunday show, no texts pouring in from family afterward and no media waiting to talk with the team afterward. Robinson — then a freshman at the small Williamstown, Mass., liberal arts college — watched on an online stream as his team’s name was called. Williams was going to the Big Dance, except it wasn’t that big of a deal — it was only Division III, after all.
Fast forward two years, and Robinson — now a redshirt sophomore guard for the Michigan men’s basketball team after transferring from Williams — will get a taste of the big Big Dance: the Division I NCAA Tournament.
The NCAA Tournament Selection Committee announced Sunday that the Wolverines would play Tulsa in Dayton, Ohio, as part of the tournament’s First Four. A win Wednesday would give them a No. 11 seed and a Friday night matchup against No. 6 seed Notre Dame in Brooklyn, N.Y.
In 2014, Robinson helped lead the Ephs to the championship game and a runner-up finish. But even so, playing at that level meant their Selection Sunday prior to the tournament had a different feel to it.
“We had a little viewing party — I guess you could call it, in our coaches’ offices, but nothing to this scale,” Robinson said. “There was no media afterwards, I can tell you that.”
On Sunday, Robinson got a different experience. The Wolverines watched this year’s Selection Sunday show from the Weiser Crisler Center Club — a club level-esque area of the arena, and afterward, about two dozen members of the media waited to hear from players and Michigan coach John Beilein.
“The scale is a lot different, hard to compare,” Robinson said. “When we got into the tournament at Williams, I might have gotten one text from my mom. This time, I got a few more, I guess you could say.”
More recognition, be it texts from friends or shoutouts from noted college basketball analysts, has been a theme for Robinson since arriving in Ann Arbor.
After sitting out the 2014-15 season due to NCAA transfer rules, Robinson has made a name for himself at the Division I level. The New Castle, N.H., native broke into Michigan’s starting lineup in its 10th game and has been a staple since. He has paced 11.2 points per game to go along with 3.3 rebounds and has been the Wolverines’ best look from 3-point range, shooting at a 45-percent clip from deep.
Despite his success, Robinson’s numbers dropped off midway through the season as he struggled to find his stroke. After starting the season shooting better than 50 percent through 21 games from beyond the arc, Robinson shot worse than 30 percent from the perimeter in Michigan’s final 10 regular-season games. But in the Big Ten Tournament, Robinson regained a bit of his rhythm, going off for 21 points against Northwestern and hitting a clutch 3 against Indiana that set Michigan up for a buzzer-beating victory.
“This has been such a great learning experience for him,” Beilein said. “For right now, it just gives him another opportunity to validate that his performance in the Big Ten, both hitting clutch shots and just playing a lot of minutes in the Big Ten —rebounding and having assists in the tournament — validated why he’s here.”
Robinson validated himself as a Division I player during the regular season. Now he has the opportunity to do it in the postseason.
“This is why I came here,” Robinson said. “(The) opportunity to play in the NCAA Tournament. … You build it up in your head, but that moment when you hear your name called is pretty surreal.”