Scrimmages equate to invaluable experience.
That's why University of Tennessee at Chattanooga basketball coach John Shulman scheduled two preseason closed scrimmages -- one against Belmont and one at Tennessee Tech on Saturday -- instead of one or two exhibition games.
"We felt like this year, we needed to be behind closed doors as long as we could be," said Shulman, who is prevented from discussing specifics of any closed scrimmage. "Playing behind closed doors gives you a good hard look at your team.
"I don't think you have a distorted view of your team."
Shulman has eight guys who are freshmen or sophomores in the rotation at this time, and until the players determine playing time. Half of those underclassmen are freshmen whose only experience against collegiate players has come in the two scrimmages.
Redshirt junior Sam Watson, who began his career as a walk-on, has played more games for UTC (54) than anybody else on the roster. Senior center Drazen Zlovaric has played in more career games (75) when his playing time at Georgia is added included.
"I think it's huge for young guys to see what level of competition they need to expect coming into college," Zlovaric said. "It establishes that this is college, not high school, and it's a whole other level."
The option of playing an exhibition game or two -- the NCAA allows a total of two scrimmages or exhibitions, or one of each -- did not appeal to Shulman with such a young team.
Scrimmages allow for the coaching staffs of both schools to collaborate before the event on what they'd like to accomplish -- a give-and-take. One coach may want to play a zone, the other wants to play man-to-man. The coaches compromise down to out-of-bounds defenses so each team benefits from playing.
"In a scrimmage format, you can tell the other coach what you want to play," Shulman said. "It's a pretty controlled environment, and that's important for us this year."
Exhibition games are played against inferior competition and do not provide the type of contest necessary for learning and improvement. Plus, this year, the Mocs have a school-record 18 homes on the slate including two non-division I schools. Some programs include exhibition games in a season-ticket package, but the Mocs will open the regular season this year with a game that counts against Tennessee Temple on Nov. 12.
"When you have an exhibition, it's not the speed of the game and doesn't represent what the game is going to be like," Zlovaric said. "The only thing is that fans are out there, and the lights are on and referees are there.
"I think we gained a lot of experience for the young guys and [saw] what are we doing good and what we're not doing good. It's a test to see where we are and where we need to be."