The Final Four isn’t usually the place where you would find a mid-major cupcake team to schedule.

But that was exactly the case for Michigan coach John Beilein.

Last April, Beilein’s cousin, Joe Niland, the coach at the University of Mobile, introduced him to Houston Baptist coach Ron Cottrell during the championship event. After some small talk and preliminary discussions, both men saw it as a mutual fit.

“He said (Cottrell) was looking for games,” Beilein said. “I said, ‘Well, give us a call.’ That’s what happened. They are in Division I now, but independent. They are always looking for games.”

While Houston Baptist (0-3) shouldn’t pose too big of a problem, it could be a trap game if the Wolverines are caught looking ahead to their Thanksgiving tournament in Florida.

Either way, when the Wolverines and Cougars tip off tonight at Crisler Arena, it will be the last warmup for Michigan (1-0) before it heads to the Old Spice Tournament in Orlando, Fla., where it will play games on three consecutive days.

Other teams have started the season playing in tournaments or in ESPN’s 24-hour marathon, but Michigan has just one game in the books so far.

“I’m excited to be playing basketball,” senior forward DeShawn Sims said. “I’ve been watching basketball and it was so exciting. I’m like, ‘Man, we don’t have another game for another four or five days.’ And just being able to play that many games is like making up for lost time.”

While Beilein didn’t intentionally plan for the season to begin with a pair of “gimmie” games, it will still help the young squad prepare for the meat of the nonconference schedule.

Once again, the Michigan coaching staff will likely empty the benches in order to gauge the team’s depth before its schedule picks up steam. Last weekend against Northern Michigan, nine players came off the bench, combining for 38 points. Freshman Matt Vogrich and senior Zack Gibson led the reserves with 15 and 11 points, respectively.

“You don’t want to start off with the defending national champion if you don’t have to,” Beilein said. “You try to get your team just used to what goes on in games, especially since we’re the third youngest team in the Big Ten. That three games in a few days is really going to sneak up on us.”

But Michigan has not shown its inexperience so far. Vogrich drilled all five of his attempts last Saturday in his collegiate debut. His final make also secured a triple-double for junior forward Manny Harris, the second time a player has accomplished that feat in program history.

“Even when I wanted to get him out of there up 35 points, I hear he has nine assists and say, ‘Let’s hope somebody makes a shot, because he’ll get the assist,’ ” Beilein said. “Matt drops it in and we get him out of there. There’s some luck involved as well, but he’s got the ability to do it.”

Vogrich was having so much success from deep that he offered Harris a premonition before he made his final 3-pointer.

“Honestly, when the game was going on, he was like, ‘You need one more,’ and I’m like, ‘All right,’ Harris said. “He just winked his eye at me, and then he shot a deep three and made it.”

While the Wolverines don’t want to get cocky two weeks into the season, this is the kind of subtle swagger that defines conference contenders.

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