- Associated Press - Saturday, November 1, 2014

MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP) - With the start of the college basketball grind still several weeks away, Kansas State and Nebraska took the floor for the first time this season in a quiet gym far removed from either campus - a secret scrimmage.

Wildcats coach Bruce Weber and Huskers counterpart Tim Miles understood the ramifications of their workout in Omaha, Nebraska. Their teams aren’t scheduled to play each other in the regular season, but there’s always the chance they could meet in the NCAA tournament.

Still, the coaches believed the benefits of facing another Division I school in a game-like setting to prepare for the season far outweighed any scouting report it might provide.

“You don’t want to play a bad team and think you’re going to be good when the season rolls around,” Wildcats forward Thomas Gipson said. “You’ve got to play competition. Nebraska’s good competition. I feel like we’ll learn from there and continue to move forward.”

Kansas State and Nebraska are hardly alone in scheduling a private workout.

There were nearly 200 scrimmages involving Division I schools planned between Oct. 23 and the start of the season in earnest on Nov. 14. They range from matchups of lower-tier schools such as North Carolina-Asheville and Furman to high-profile workouts between teams that have national title aspirations, such as the trip Virginia Commonwealth was making to Florida this weekend.

Not that you’ll know much about what transpired.

The games, which replace typical exhibitions against Division II schools, are closed to the public and the media. The only people allowed in the gym under NCAA rules are the players, coaches, officials and essential personnel, such as game-clock operators.

In fact, the scrimmages aren’t supposed to be publicized. Scores and stats are only kept by a school’s officials for their own use, and rarely does word of what happened slip out.

Virginia coach Tony Bennett has scheduled scrimmages against Vanderbilt and Baylor over the years, and the Cavaliers are prepping for this season by playing against Marquette and Georgetown.

“Sometimes you have to play an exhibition for your season-ticket package, but we’re not in that spot,” Bennett explained. “The scrimmages are a good thing. You can get a lot of feedback. You can stop in the middle of it, add another session at the end of it. It’s really flexible to do what you want, plus the competition. You’re not always going to play an exhibition of that caliber.”

In fact, rarely do high-profile Division I teams play meaningful exhibitions these days.

Duke is playing the first of two exhibitions against Livingston, a Division II college in nearby Salisbury, North Carolina. Kansas plays the first of its two exhibitions Tuesday night against Washburn, another Division II program located in nearby Topeka, Kansas.

In those cases, though, it makes financial sense to have an exhibition. The Blue Devils and Jayhawks will pack their historic arenas even for a meaningless 40-point blowout, and the revenue from ticket sales helps to balance the ledger for their entire athletic departments.

There is also something to be said for playing in front of people.

“We can get in a game setting where you’ve got officials and fans and all of those things,” said Arkansas coach Mike Anderson, who does not have any secret scrimmages scheduled.

“I’ve given it a thought,” he said, “maybe at one point in time doing a private scrimmage and doing one exhibition game. But I haven’t done it yet.”

On the other hand, Mississippi coach Andy Kennedy so believes in the value of the scrimmages that he’s scheduled one against Middle Tennessee State, even though the Rebels could face the Blue Raiders during the Emerald Coast Classic in late November.

“We don’t even care about that,” Kennedy said. “That’s five, six games down the road. We both realize we’re going to know everything about the opponent by then anyway.”

Most scrimmages amount to simulated games, but coaches can tailor them however they wish. If they need work on man-to-man or zone defenses, they can do it. If they need to work on pressing, or rebounding or other game-like situations, they can stop the practice and focus on it.

That isn’t possible during a true exhibition game.

“I don’t know if there’s a disadvantage to it other than you would play another game in front of fans,” Clemson coach Brad Brownell said. “That’s why I do one of each.”

North Carolina State coach Mike Gottfried has done both over the years, deciding before the season based on the makeup of his roster. If he has a bunch of freshmen and newcomers, exhibitions might help them get accustomed to college hoops. If he returns a team heavy on veterans, controlled workouts against another Division I school might provide better preparation for the season.

“I like the fact that this weekend we’re going to play and compete against guys that look like we look physically, the same size and quickness,” said Gottfried, whose Wolfpack was working out with Georgia this weekend.

“We’re playing an SEC-caliber team and that’s going to be good for our guys,” Gottfried said. “It depends for me, year to year, what’s best for our team.”


AP Sports Writers Aaron Beard, Pete Iacobelli and Kurt Voigt contributed to this report.

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