The Drake transfer was poked into the large hole Daniel Oturu left on the grid when he played in the NBA. In a normal year with a full off-season, regular practice, and a series of non-conference games, Robbins would have had plenty of time to prepare for the rigors of the Big Ten.
The team had to close due to coronavirus protocol just weeks before the season and Robbins was dealing with injury issues that would bog him down even if the team was cleared for return.
His time-out showed in Minnesota’s six non-conference games. Robbins struggled with nasty problems and seemed to shake off the rust. And with the Gophers playing eight games in a row against senior opponents to open the Big Ten game, Robbins had to acclimate quickly.
When Robbins beat Ohio State on Sunday, the team’s heartbeat was on both ends of the floor. He hit a season high of 27 points, scored 14 rebounds and blocked five shots.
His performance in the game helped him earn the Big Ten Player of the Week award. And on Tuesday, he became the first Gophers player to ever be named Oscar Robertson International of the Week. This award was presented by the US Basketball Writers Association for the 2009-10 season.
« He played a great game against Ohio State and hopefully that gives him confidence, » said coach Richard Pitino on Tuesday. « But now he has to pursue it. »
# 16 Minnesota (10-2) goes to # 10 Michigan (9-0) for 7 p.m. Wednesday’s game in Ann Arbor, Michigan and Robbins will draw the Wolverines’ top scorer: Hunter Dickinson, a 7-foot-1, 255-pound freshman averaging 17 points and eight rebounds per game. The 20-year-old center is an inch taller and 20 pounds heavier than Robbins.
Dickinson was a revelation for the undefeated Wolverines who started the last four games since the start of the year on the bench. His emergence, plus an abundance of depth and talent, has put Michigan at the top of the Big Ten.
This also adds to the importance of Robbins. Robbins has dealt with high profile men like Luka Garza, Kofi Cockburn, Joey Hauser and Nate Reuvers and has kept Minnesota’s forecourt afloat in a conference that calls for a good game. He has to do the same against Dickinson.
« I definitely think more than any other conference we have a collection of great, great people, » said Pitino.
Without Robbins, the Gophers would certainly not be number 16 in this week’s Associated Press poll, the highest ranking since 2017-18. You have played well against one of the toughest schedules in the country so far. They are 3-2 in their five Quadrant 1 games.
With Pitino and the Gophers expecting an ongoing focus on security guard Marcus Carr as they saw it against the state of Ohio, Robbins’ ability to score and play in the post has opened up a second dynamic goal option.
Still, Pitino still sees room to grow, for both Robbins and the rest of the Gophers.
« Nobody has arrived, » said the coach. « I don’t think we’re near our climax individually or together. »
Beating Michigan on the road would be the next correct step towards their arrival and would signal another strong performance from Robbins. Minnesota is unbeaten in 10 games at Williams Arena but has lost heavily in the team’s only two games on the road, 92-65 in Illinois on December 15 and 71-59 in Wisconsin on December 31.
While Pitino doesn’t see much of a difference between the games and refers to them all as the « neutral side », several players said that some of the different rims and balls had an impact on them, particularly with regards to their loss to Wisconsin.
« We have to play better against great teams, that’s how I see it, » he said. “Illinois are a very good team that we didn’t play well against. I don’t care where the game was. Same goes for Wisconsin. The rims have nothing to do with defense. The rims have nothing to do with your energy or enthusiasm. … We just have to play well against another really good team. »
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