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Utah Runnin’ Utes to host Wyoming for ‘secret scrimmage’ on Saturday

Utes host an exhibition vs. Division II Westminster on Nov. 4. The regular-season opener is Nov. 9 vs. Abilene Christian

(Utah Athletics) University of Utah basketball coach Craig Smith instructs freshman forward Gabe Madsen during a recent practice.

The University of Utah basketball team will host an opponent on Saturday at the Huntsman Center, but no one is allowed to talk about it.

The athletic department cannot publicize it, first-year Utes head coach Craig Smith cannot publicly discuss it, and neither fans, nor media members are allowed to view it. Statistics are not allowed to be kept in an official capacity.

Huh?

The NCAA allows college basketball teams to play any combination of two scrimmages or exhibition games. How programs opt to divvy that is up to them. Since the NCAA began allowing teams to replace one or both exhibition games with a scrimmage in 1998, they have been colloquially referred to as ‘secret scrimmages,’ given that they cannot be publicized.

The “secret” attached to those scrimmages is generally poorly kept. With that, The Salt Lake Tribune confirmed late last week that Utah will host Wyoming on Saturday morning. That scrimmage, along with the rest of the country’s scrimmage plans, was first reported by Stadium’s Jeff Goodman.

Beyond the “secret scrimmage,” Utah will host Division II Westminster on Nov. 4, five days before it opens the regular season back at the Huntsman Center against Abilene Christian.

“There’s eight guys that have never worn a Runnin’ Utes uniform before,” Smith said Tuesday at the Huntsman Center before practice began. “As a dress rehearsal when you see another opponent, it will feel like last year with nobody in the stands, but it’s another opponent. They’ll find out, starting Thursday, how we prepare for teams, walking through their stuff, our scouting reports, how we watch film on our opponents and all that preparation that goes into it. They’re going to get a firsthand look for the first time at how we go through that process.”

The majority of Division I teams opt for at least one secret scrimmage, which holds some obvious benefits.

Saturday will include some game-like conditions: a taste of the Huntsman Center, officiating, shot clock, game clock. But by its nature, a scrimmage should include the ability to blow a whistle at any given moment and have teachable moments take place. Furthermore, both sides can see an opponent for the first time without being inside the pressure cooker of an actual game with fans.

What will ultimately come out of this scrimmage is fresh film against an opponent, not just film of Utah players going up and down amongst themselves. From that film, Smith and his staff are likely to have a better idea of what they’re working with with Westminster coming in 12 days later and Abilene Christian coming in for one that counts five days after that.

Who is Smith’s starting center? Branden Carlson or Dusan Mahorcic? Can Smith start both, or at least go that big some of the time? What does the ball-handling/point guard situation look like behind Rollie Worster? How up to task is Cincinnati transfer Gabe Madsen after he played just two games last season as a freshman? Same thought with Serbian freshman guard Lazar Stefanovic, who did not arrive in the United States until August.

There are questions to answer, lineup decisions to make, and a genuine curiosity as to what exactly this Utah team is, and what it will be. Smith and his staff will get the opportunity to work through those things on Saturday, behind closed doors.

“We want to just see where we’re at in so many ways, scheme-wise on offense and on defense,” Smith said. “Obviously, you’re consistently evaluating personnel. We have a lot of depth and it’s one of those things where you have different days where some guys are like, ‘Whoa,’ and that’s why we recruited them.”

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