For Glenn Robinson III, the NCAA tournament has been a trip through his own family history.
After Michigan played two games in Milwaukee, the city where his father spent most of his NBA career, the Wolverines now face Tennessee Friday night. The Volunteers are coached by Cuonzo Martin, who played at Purdue alongside the elder Robinson.
"Not only were he and my dad teammates, they were roommates, so he’s a great friend of our family," Robinson said at Thursday’s press conferences in Indianapolis. "We’ve had a great relationship through the years, and he recruited me, so it is really funny that now we will be facing each other in the Sweet 16."
Martin is enjoying the reunion just as much.
"His dad was obviously my roommate and teammate, but he was also the best player I ever played with or against," Martin said. "More importantly, he’s just a good man, and I’m happy for him and for his son to be here. Of course, we want to get the win tomorrow, but I’m excited to see how far he has come as a basketball player. He’s a great kid, and I’ve watched him grow up, so this is fun."
On the floor, Robinson is going to be one of the key players if Michigan wants to advance to Sunday’s regional final. On paper, the Volunteers don’t look that impressive, sneaking into the tournament as an No. 11 seed and sporting a 24-12 record that includes a pair of losses to a mediocre Texas A&M and an 0-3 record against Florida.
But, on their night, the Volunteers can beat anyone in the country, as they showed in December by blowing out Virginia by 35 points. They also present a tough size matchup for the Wolverines, with four of their five starters coming in at 6’6" or taller.
Robinson will be paired up with the Volunteers’ best player, Jarnell Stokes. At 6’8" and 260 pounds, Stokes will have two inches and 40 pounds on Robinson, who will have to battle to keep him off the glass, especially at the offensive end. Stokes is one of the country’s best offensive rebounders, and he could turn the game into a repeat of Michigan’s second-half struggles against Texas last weekend.
"They have a bunch of big guys who can do work inside, just like Texas, so we’re going to have to overcome the same thing this time," Robinson said. "I think it will just come down to will again — how bad do we want to win this game. We’re prepared, the coaches did a great job and we just have to go out there with the right mindset and do it again."
Jordan Morgan won’t be facing the same kind of size deficit against Tennessee center Jeronne Maymon, but he knows it won’t be easy.
"I think Tennessee is a good comparison to what we see from a lot of teams in the Big Ten, because they are physical in the paint and they’ve got scorers on the perimeter," he said. "So it is going to be the type of game that we’ve played a lot of times this year, and we’ve done pretty well with them. They are certainly going to be a challenge, but that just means another opportunity to prove ourselves as players and as a team."
After last year’s run to the national-championship team and this year’s Big Ten title, it is easy to think of the Wolverines as a veteran team. The truth, though, is that with only one senior (Morgan) and one junior (Jon Horford), Michigan actually has one of the youngest rosters in the tournament.
Morgan thinks that the two factors go hand-in-hand — that the accomplishments of this group are the reason that they show such poise on the floor.
"We’re really young — we’re playing mostly freshmen and sophomores — but we’ve really had to mature quickly, because last year’s tournament and the Big Ten this season," he said. "I don’t know how many times this group has already had to come from behind and win close games in huge situations, but it has definitely prepared for us what we face now. We aren’t fazed by the type of things that faze most young teams."
If Michigan can stay poised, they have a real chance of beating Tennessee to set up a probable rematch with Louisville in the regional finals, and beyond that? The first back-to-back Final Four appearances since the school’s last great young team — the now-disgraced Fab Five.