KU and Illinois basketball teams set for secret scrimmage

Illinois coach Brad Underwood watches during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Iowa, Sunday, March 6, 2022, in Champaign, Ill.

Illinois coach Brad Underwood watches during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Iowa, Sunday, March 6, 2022, in Champaign, Ill.

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Careful to not break NCAA rules that prohibit college basketball coaches from publicizing any “secret scrimmages” they might hold against fellow Division-I teams, Bill Self offered just a short response when asked what he hopes to learn about his 2022-23 Kansas Jayhawks on Saturday in St. Louis.

“Hopefully kind of find out where we are at,” Self said Tuesday at the Big 12 Men’s Basketball Tipoff at T-Mobile Center. “I know who we are playing is very, very physical and all those things. It’ll be good for our young guys to play against that. I think it’ll be good.”

That’s all KU’s 20th-year coach would say about KU’s upcoming Saturday afternoon scrimmage against Illinois at Lindenwood University in St. Charles, Missouri. That’s right. He wouldn’t even refer to the Jayhawks’ opponent by name, lest he violate rules that prohibit coaches from discussing specifics.

According to NCAA rules, Division-I teams the past 10 years or so have been allowed to either play two exhibition games against Division-II squads or play one exhibition game to go with one closed scrimmage against a Division-I school, or play two closed scrimmages and no exhibition games.

KU for years had chosen to play two exhibitions against in-state Division-II schools which regularly drew 16,300 fans in Allen Fieldhouse.

However, last year, KU elected to play one secret scrimmage (at Tulsa) as well as one exhibition game (Emporia State) in preparation for a difficult season-opener at the Champions Classic against Michigan State. Self thought it was important to scrimmage a fellow Division-I school in order to adequately prepare for the rugged opener versus the Spartans.,

That scenario worked out well, so this year it’s KU vs. Illinois with the two teams meeting in St. Louis for an afternoon of basketball.

Illinois is ranked No. 23 in the preseason AP poll while KU is tied for fifth with Baylor. The Jayhawks then will play Pittsburg State in an exhibition on Nov. 3 at Allen Fieldhouse in advance of the regular-season opener against Omaha on Nov. 7 at Allen. KU will also play host to North Dakota State on Nov. 10 with the Champions Classic game against Duke this year set for Nov. 15 in Indianapolis.

Self last season explained his new philosophy regarding one secret scrimmage, one exhibition, in an interview with The Star.

“When your first game of the season is against Kentucky, Duke or Michigan State, it’d be nice to play a game where somebody can throw comparable size at you and things like that,” Self said. “You are trying to get prepared for the first two or three games of the season. They have definitely helped us in some ways,” Self added of playing a pair of Division-II teams in the exhibition season. “But being able to play someone of comparable size will probably prepare us more for that first game.”

There will be no time restrictions on Saturday’s workout with Big 10 school Illinois. KU coach Self and Illinois coach Brad Underwood could decide to play a number of halves or quarters instead of a 40-minute game. It’s possible the teams could elect to play one 20-minute game and have various scrimmage sessions such as 10 minutes of man-to-man scrimmage; five minutes of zone scrimmage, five minutes of pressing.

Teams are allowed to even take a long break if they wish and return to the court for more work.

Last year at this time, an NCAA official told The Star that secret scrimmages needed to be “conducted in privacy and without publicity or official scoring. 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 class time shall be missed by basketball student-athletes in conjunction with such a scrimmage, including all associated activities (eg, travel, pregame and postgame activities).”

Illinois coach Underwood spoke in generalities about his team’s upcoming scrimmage to the Champaign News-Gazette.

“You can work on situations and scenarios,” the Illinois coach told the paper. “You can have a segment versus area. You can have a segment of out-of-bounds plays and last-second situations. All of those things that aren’t as easy to do against yourself. You can run down three, side out-of-bounds with six seconds to go. You can create those scenarios, and you can do that against really good competition. It’s those scenarios that are really good because you can really stop and teach in those moments.”

A pair of former Texas Tech players will be reunited Saturday. KU’s Kevin McCullar will be going up against former Red Raider Terrence Shannon, both first-year players at their new schools. McCullar and Shannon are both 6-foot-6 guards.

Illinois also has a pair of highly recruited freshmen guards in 6-3 Skyy Clark and 6-2 Jayden Epps as well as 6-10 junior Coleman Hawkins and 6-6 frosh wing Ty Rodgers.

““I think you’re always a little bit leery of young guys in the backcourt, but they’re really talented,” Underwood told the News-Gazette. “I haven’t been as worried about it because we’re position-less. We’re not as dominating a ball-handling team as maybe we’ve been in the past, but those guys are really, really good.”

According to Jeff Goodman of watchstadium.com, other secret scrimmages involving Big 12 teams to take place Saturday: Kansas State vs. Southern Illinois in Kansas City; Iowa State vs. Creighton in Ames, Iowa; Texas vs. Houston in San Antonio and West Virginia vs. Dayton at Bethany College.

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Gary Bedore covers all aspects of Kansas basketball for The Star — the current team as well as forming players and coaches and recruiting. He attended KU and was born and raised in Chicago, as well as Lisle, Ill.

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