For this Irish team, for this season, secret scrimmage just what's needed
Pssst. Hey, you. Can you keep a college basketball secret?
One of the most storied rivalries in Notre Dame men’s basketball history returns to the Irish schedule to start the 2022-23 season. But the NCAA being the NCAA, it doesn’t want anyone to know about it. Or acknowledge that it will, and then did, happen.
It will. Notre Dame will play DePaul.
Rather than play a second exhibition against an overmatched but grateful opponent at Purcell Pavilion, as is usually the case early in the year, Irish head coach Mike Brey will take a different route. It’s one that his program has traveled only once prior — in October 2018.
That year, Notre Dame and Cincinnati met in Indianapolis for a “secret” scrimmage. This year, Notre Dame and DePaul will do the same on Sunday, Oct. 23 at Wintrust Arena on the south end of Chicago. What time it starts — or supposedly starts — has yet to be determined.
Notre Dame and DePaul have met 106 times. Notre Dame leads the all-time series 62-44. Some games — like the 76-74 Irish win in overtime on Feb. 27, 1980 — are memorable. Others — too many too recently to mention — have not. The Irish have won 11 straight and 12 of 13 over the Blue Demons, their one-time Big East colleagues.
DePaul finished 15-16 last season, its first under head coach Tony Stubblefield. Notre Dame was 24-11.
The NCAA allowed Division I teams several years ago to hold these scrimmages against fellow Division I teams. They're classified as secret because they’re exactly that. Neither participating team can acknowledge that they happen, or have happened. No statistics from any game situations that the teams work through can be released. It's not open to the public. It’s not open to the media. No word on anything that happens is supposed to get out, but it always gets out.
When Notre Dame worked that evening against Cincinnati, the Irish left Indianapolis concerned how power forward John Mooney might fare in his first season as a main guy. He had struggled against the UC size. Mooney then led the Irish in scoring (14.1 ppg.) and the ACC in rebounding (11.2).
The game is not listed on Notre Dame’s official 2022-23 schedule. In a lot of ways, it’s like it never happens. But it does.
It's not really a game, but more like a series of game situations where coaches can evaluate their teams in a variety of settings and situations. Maybe, four five-minute segments of five-on-five. Then, some late-game situations, like, say, putting 20 seconds on the clock and a specific score on the board and each team gets to work on offense and on defense twice. Maybe some individual skill work. Just something different to break up the monotony of preseason practice and get something more out of just another glorified pickup game against a Division III outfit.
Under NCAA secret scrimmage guidelines, Brey cannot officially confirm or deny that the DePaul scrimmage is on the schedule. Two sources close to the program told the Tribune on Monday evening that it indeed is. And it makes sense. Too much sense.
A veteran team that carries six fifth-year players this season, Notre Dame has no business playing a second exhibition. This program needed to be challenged. The earlier the better. Cormac Ryan and Nate Laszewski and Dane Goodwin aren't getting anything out of a second exhibition. A scrimmage against DePaul checks almost every box for Notre Dame.
The quick bus ride over to Chicago will allow Notre Dame’s freshmen (Dom Campbell, Ven-Allen Lubin, J.J. Starling) and graduate transfer (Marcus Hammond) to learn how it all operates away from home. The travel. The meetings. The pre-game Mass. The preparation. It’s an easy trip, with the Marriott Marquis basically attached to Wintrust, a building Notre Dame last visited to officially open the arena — and the 2017-18 season — with a 72-58 victory.
Going this route is something Brey likely will continue to do moving forward — one traditional exhibition at home, one secret scrimmage against a program from a power conference relatively close to home. For this season, it’s DePaul. The following year, how about Butler. Or Indiana. Maybe even Dayton?
Any option will be on the table. All have to be. According to Stadium’s Jeff Goodman, 11 of the Atlantic Coast Conference’s 15 teams held secret scrimmages last season. It's become the way of the college basketball world, even if nobody's supposed to know about it.
Notre Dame opens the regular season Nov. 10 at home against Radford.