Winthrop University

What are college basketball teams doing during closed scrimmages? Shhh. It’s secret.

Can you make the grade? Grade a Winthrop basketball defensive clip

Winthrop basketball’s extensive defensive grading system has made the Eagles one of the best defensive teams in the Big South Conference. Try your hand at grading a defensive clip from Winthrop’s win over High Point Feb. 10, 2018.
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Winthrop basketball’s extensive defensive grading system has made the Eagles one of the best defensive teams in the Big South Conference. Try your hand at grading a defensive clip from Winthrop’s win over High Point Feb. 10, 2018.

The secrecy surrounding NCAA men’s basketball preseason scrimmages has always been amusing, especially when information about them leaks out anyway.

During the NCAA Division I basketball preseason, teams are allowed either two secret scrimmages, played in controlled circumstances against another team, or one secret scrimmage and one public exhibition, played under normal rules against another team.

“I like the closed scrimmages because they’re more practice-like,” said Winthrop coach Pat Kelsey. “We scrimmaged the other day and I can just blow the whistle on the sideline and walk out on the floor and just stop. And teach.”

The NCAA’s rule: “Individuals other than athletics department staff members and those necessary to conduct a basketball practice scrimmage against outside competition may not be present during such a scrimmage. The institution shall ensure that the scrimmage is free from public view.”

No media coverage of the scrimmages is allowed, nor is information supposed to emerge from the games, though both happen. Some coaches will name the schools they’re scrimmaging, and others won’t.

Winthrop opens its 2018-19 season on Nov. 6 at Vanderbilt. The Eagles already have two secret scrimmages under their belts, including one against North Carolina A&T.

“You do all the things that you can in practice, in terms of stopping and teaching, but against somebody else,” said Kelsey. “Everybody’s just tired of playing against each other.”

Preseason scrimmages have been particularly important for USC Upstate and its new head coach, Dave Dickerson. The Spartans are newcomers to the Big South Conference and Dickerson has seven freshmen on his roster.

“The scrimmages tell us… everything about our team and how you would react in certain situations,” he said. “You can have a dialogue with the opposing coach to try and figure out four, five different scenarios that you can play against and coach against to help your team be prepared for the season.”

Coaches can work their teams through defensive pressing or beating a press offensively, put five freshmen on the floor at the same time, play with a particularly big or small lineup, or only set up in zone defenses. Each of the 351 NCAA Division I basketball teams has a long list of things they can improve during the month before a season begins.

College football spring games are played in front of huge crowds and there have been questions raised during the last decade about whether it would make sense to let the public into the closed basketball scrimmages, to charge and make some money, either for the schools or for a charitable cause.

“Seems like that would be fine, if you could raise money for charity why wouldn’t you? Who would be hurt?” Campbell coach Kevin McGeehan asked.

Several of the coaches at the Big South’s 2018 basketball media day in Charlotte recently prefer to maintain the secrecy shrouding the preseason scrimmages. Winthrop’s Kelsey liked the classroom vibe that the scrimmages provide, while Dickerson, trying to help Upstate basketball pick up the pieces from a 7-25 season and the departure of some of the program’s best players, would rather do as much of that work as possible in private. He probably winced a week later when he saw Division II Augusta beat South Carolina in a well-attended exhibition game in Columbia, S.C.

“You can do it not in the spotlight of your fans or boosters and the students,” Dickerson said. “So you can go out and make some of those mistakes and coach through those mistakes, with the doors being closed.”

Just before the interview with Dickerson concluded, a reporter tried to catch the longtime college basketball coach snoozing.

“Who’d you guys scrimmage last week?”

“It’s secret,” he said, before flashing a grin.

Campbell junior guard Chris Clemons is one of the best scorers in Division I college basketball. Winthrop will try to slow down Clemons when he comes to Rock Hill Jan. 27, 2018 for a game between two teams tied for second place in the Big South Co

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