Michigan men’s basketball coach John Beilein talks about his team’s season as if it is a journey.

His goals are long-term rather than game-specific.

His team’s longest journey of the season starts tonight against No. 22 Butler in the opening game of the Great Alaska Shootout in Anchorage, Alaska – 3,853 miles from Ann Arbor in Sullivan Arena.

“Overall, I just still want to focus on the development of this team,” Beilein said through the athletic department.

Michigan features just one returning starter – senior Ron Coleman. The inexperience means Beilein looks at every day as an opportunity to teach his young team more.

“I don’t know what we will come out of here with,” Beilein said through the athletic department.

Against a Butler (3-0) team that returns five of its top six scorers, Beilein understands the contrast with his young Michigan team.

“I am envious,” Beilein said through the athletic department. “I’d be lying if I would say I am not looking forward to the day we have a veteran team returning, because it just makes coaching more enjoyable.”

The Horizon League preseason player of the year, shooting guard A.J. Graves (19.6 points per game), leads Butler. Against a player of Graves’s caliber, Beilein says the keys are watching film and changing defensive looks. Butler’s backcourt also includes preseason All-Horizon League team member Mike Green.

Tonight’s game will also test the resiliency of Michigan’s freshmen backcourt.

Coming off a 74-52 loss at Georgetown, Manny Harris and Kelvin Grady will learn what it takes to rebound and play against one of the best backcourt tandem’s in the country, Beilein said.

The Michigan lineup will have more experience tonight, when junior Jerret Smith suits up for the first time this season. Smith missed the Wolverines’ first two games with an ankle injury and served a suspension for violating the team’s class-attendance policy in the third game.

Throughout the season, Beilein has talked about how this Thanksgiving week trip to the Great White North would bring his young squad together.

“I think that will be a great bonding experience,” Beilein said at Michigan Media Day. “Win, lose or draw, we are going to be a better team down the road.”

Michigan will play three games in Anchorage. A win against Butler will pit the Wolverines against the winner of Virginia Tech-Eastern Washington. A loss will put them in the consolation bracket against the loser of Virginia Tech-Eastern Washington.

Michigan could also face Bobby Knight-led Texas Tech and No. 14 Gonzaga.

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