The past three weeks have almost felt like an extended preseason for the Michigan men’s basketball team. That means the 15th-ranked Wolverines are more than eager to enter tomorrow’s game against Creighton in the opening round of the Old Spice Classic.

“Just being able to play that many games, it’s like making up for lost time,” senior forward DeShawn Sims said last week. “We’ve been having (six or eight) days in between games, so I’m excited to go on Thanksgiving. I’ve spent too many Thanksgivings here.”

The four-day invitational held in Orlando, Fla. features eight teams, half of which made the NCAA Tournament last March. Creighton finished 27-8 last season and advanced to the second round of the National Invitational Tournament. And despite graduating last season’s Missouri Valley Conference Player of the Year in Booker Woodfox, the Bluejays (2-1) are averaging 79 points per game and have five players scoring in double figures.

This year, Creighton coach Dana Altman has trained his guards to run elements of Vance Walberg’s famous Dribble-Drive Motion offense. Michigan coach John Beilein praised the way Altman has juggled a deep rotation.

“They’re so diverse right now with what they do,” said Beilein, referencing Creighton’s high-post and dribble-drive motion offense. “We’ve got to prepare for both (offenses). They’re also running 10 to 12 players at you, and scouting the opponent is really hard.”

To compound that problem, three of Creighton’s top six scorers – Darryl Ashford, Wayne Runnels and Ethan Wragge – were in either junior college or high school last year, so the Michigan coaching staff just has three games’ worth of film to analyze them.

The Wolverines may not know much about Creighton’s top scorers, but they do know the Blue Jays have one glaring weakness – the frontcourt. Creighton finished dead last in the MVC last season in rebounding margin, and is just minus-four this year with a lineup that has nobody taller than 6-foot-9.

The Wolverines (2-0) also have something to prove after getting wiped out on the glass against lowly Houston Baptist last weekend, finishing with a minus-13 margin. But against Creighton’s small lineup, Beilein should be able to divide minutes at power forward among Zack Novak, Zack Gibson and Anthony Wright.

The coaching staff has also dedicated practice time this week to transition defense. It looked weak at times last weekend, as Houston Baptist guards drove the length of the floor for easy layups throughout the first half.

“We’ve worked on it every day for 15 to 25 minutes,” Beilein said. “It’s a yearly event. No matter what happens, no matter what team you have, your transition defense stinks when you first get it.”

Michigan will face either Xavier or Marquette on Friday, both of which are undefeated this year and earned top-six seeds in last season’s NCAA Tournament. The overall quality of the Old Spice Classic is a welcome step up from the doormats Michigan has played this month, so there’s a palpable sense of curiosity among the team regarding how well they will play in back-to-back games.

Perhaps the strangest possibility of this weekend’s tournament is the slight chance the Wolverines will face Baylor, where former Michigan starting center Ekpe Udoh transferred to after the 2007-08 season. Now a redshirt junior, Udoh is averaging 16 points and nine rebounds through four games.

“It’s definitely going to measure up – at the end of the tournament – where we are and how far we’ve come (since last year),” Sims said. “We’ve lived up to the hype so far. … This is going to be one of our biggest tests of the season.”

Although the Wolverines are the only ranked squad in the tournament, Beilein believes four to five of the seven other teams can earn an NCAA Tournament invitation next March. He views this weekend as an early season teaching opportunity.

“It’s preparing us for Big Ten play,” Beilein said. “We talk about transition defense, and we’re talking about (how) you have to be ready to shoot quickly and come off a screen hard, or somebody’s going to be there. It hits you after you play these teams. There’ll be positives out of it – either way – after this weekend.”

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