The Michigan men’s basketball team is comparable to a card trick.
Pick a player — any player — and they likely have an affinity for shooting 3-pointers.
The proverbial ace of spades, however, is a title that belongs to Duncan Robinson.
But as of late, Robinson’s designation as the Wolverines’ best long-range sharp shooter is losing its luster. The fifth-year senior forward’s last three games have been the nadir of his college career. A 4-for-23 output from the field in that span has begun to mar a reputation that made him a reliable favorite for John Beilein and Michigan fans alike.
“With shooters we see (cold streaks) a lot,” Beilein said. “They’ll go in, they’ll go out. Probably his legs are tired from 10 games in 24 days, probably that. He’ll be back out there shooting again.”
The turning point for Robinson’s regression surfaced at a pivotal moment. Down two points against North Carolina, Robinson’s path for a game-tying fastbreak was clear as day. As he soared through the air and lifted the ball off of his fingertips, it perched on the front iron, time stopping as it rested there, and fell out.
The Wolverines could not recover from the deficit, and Robinson concluded the contest quietly with three more misses from deep to finish 1-for-6. On the other side of the ball, he had an equally difficult time containing Tar Heels forward Luke Maye, who tallied 27 points and six boards.
Against Indiana on Saturday, Robinson’s struggles persisted as he shot 2-for-10 for six points, but a breakthrough performance from freshman guard Jordan Poole made the inaccurate shooting a passing thought. With a surplus of shooting talent for Michigan, the games against the Tar Heels and Hoosiers didn’t require a player like Robinson to go above and beyond.
But during Monday’s 71-62 loss to Ohio State, his absent playmaking mattered.
He had hit only one trey to extend the Wolverines’ lead to 15 with 5:31 remaining in the first half. That margin ballooned to 20 before the Buckeyes chipped off seven points in the final 1:31 to narrow Michigan’s cushion. Then they kept chipping away, and neither Robinson nor his teammates had a response. Robinson missed all four of his shots in a second half in which the Wolverines shot 5-for-29.
“I just want to win,” Robinson said after Monday’s game. “It doesn’t matter who has what role to me. I think those kinda play themselves out. There’s some identity in knowing what you do well and doing it and doing your job. But we’ve just gotta play better, in the second half specifically to win and we didn’t do that.
“I’m incredibly disappointed. … I hope it’s past disappointment because the Big Ten, you don’t just give away games like that. Every win is huge and to have a team down 20 or 17 or whatever it was on their home floor and give it away, that’s not acceptable.”
Since totaling 13 points and five rebounds against UC Riverside on Nov. 26 — a contest that also featured his best defensive display of the season — the Wolverines’ starting ‘4’ has scored just 12 points and nabbed six boards in the past three games combined. When his shots aren’t falling, his defense is not forceful enough to compensate for the lack of production.
“My stroke hasn’t changed, the ball isn’t going in,” Robinson said. “… There’s a lack of focus, a lot from myself, and a lot of the team to just lock them down.”
It has become a recurring theme: when Robinson gets cold, the Wolverines usually do as well. In Michigan’s first loss of the year against LSU, Robinson scored just three points — his only other single-digit performance on the year.
Losing to Ohio State created a sense of urgency for the Wolverines, and Robinson snapping out of a shooting funk can be the first step to seeing a difference on the scoreboard.