They are arguably the Wolverines” most talented and explosive players, and they are expected to act like it.
Michigan depends on junior LaVell Blanchard and Bernard Robinson, last year”s co-MVPs, to make critical shots in the big games this season. More importantly, they need to be consistent, shut down their opponents” best players and take control of situations when things aren”t going so well for the Wolverines.
But with Michigan cowering after Western Michigan”s 15-2 blitz, and its pivotal road contest slipping away in the first half, Robinson and Blanchard were MIA.
Both were taken out of their games, shooting a combined 2-8 with only six points and as many fouls as rebounds (3) in the first 20 minutes. The usually slashing Robinson floated around the perimeter, unable to attack the basket. Blanchard missed the 15-footers he usually makes, was kept away from the offensive glass and couldn”t find a rhythm on the floor.
On the other end, their counterparts, Western Michigan”s playmakers Steve Reynolds and Ben Reed, proved more aggressive and it showed with their combined 29 points on 11-16 shooting in the first half. Granted, not all the points were scored on Blanchard and Robinson, but the two Broncos definitely were the ones in control helping Western Michigan take a surprising 19-point halftime lead.
Prior to the game, Western Michigan coach Robert McCullum outlined the main keys for his team”s success against the Wolverines shoot well and shut down Blanchard and Robinson.
The Broncos did just that, holding Michigan”s two stars to a combined 19 points on 7-21 shooting, with nine rebounds and nine fouls. They merely did their homework, studied the tapes, and forced Robinson and Blanchard out of their elements.
The last time Blanchard and Robinson combined for such a small offensive output dates back to the middle of last season, when the two tallied 18 points in a loss to Purdue in West Lafayette on Jan. 3.
“We talked about what those guys” strengths are,” McCullum said. “Robinson is more of a driver and slasher, so we went into game wanting to play off him a little bit and make him shoot the 3-pointer. And he was 0-3 from behind the arc.”
Robinson has yet to connect on a three-point shot, missing all seven that he”s taken in the three games this season. So the Broncos decided to take their chances on him beating them from the outside instead of creating opportunities for himself and teammates off the dribble.
“Blanchard”s strength is obviously shooting the ball while he”s facing the basket,” McCullum said. “And he was 0-5 in that category. Obviously they weren”t satisfied with his play that they benched him starting the second half.”
Freshman Chuck Bailey replaced Blanchard to start the second half, chipped in 13 points in 14 minutes of action and pulled down a Blanchard-esque five offensive rebounds. Fellow freshman Dommanic Ingerson also added 13 points, and along with Gavin Groninger, was one of the lone Wolverines to perform well on Friday.
Blanchard and Robinson combined for nearly 33 points per game last season, but so far they”re just averaging 12 points a piece and not showing the same consistency they did a year ago. The duo will find out that nearly every team they face will impose similar game plans, trying to make other Wolverines like Groninger and Chris Young beat them. Just like Reynolds took his matchup with Blanchard very seriously, most players who guard them will take extra pride in shutting down a preseason All-Big Ten candidate like Blanchard or Robinson.
“If you”re a competitor you want to take those guys on,” McCullum said. “Some kids say they get a lot of recognition cause they”re in the Big Ten.”
State pride: While Michigan has already seen how it stacks up with two schools from the state in beating Oakland in its season-opener and falling to Western Michigan, according to the recent RPI rankings, Michigan is fourth in the state. With a ranking of 209, the Wolverines are behind No. 18 Michigan State, Western Michigan (No. 146), and Eastern Michigan (No. 199).
The formula for RPI is as follows: 25-percent emphasis on team winning percentage, 50 percent on opponents” average winning percentage, and 25 percent dedicated to an opponents” opponents” average winning percentage. Michigan”s RPI is expected to go up in the next few weeks when it faces No. 1 Duke and No. 15 Boston College.