When the Gophers men's basketball team travels on the road next week to play its first opponent under new coach Ben Johnson, it won't be an official game.
Closed scrimmages, also called "secret scrimmages" are back this college basketball season. The Gophers are scheduled to play Oct. 23 at Oklahoma in front of no fans. The Sooners and new coach Porter Moser, formerly at Loyola-Chicago, will be the first true test for Johnson's newcomer-laden squad.
With last year's start to the season delayed due to COVID-19 concerns, the closed scrimmages were part of the many lost opportunities to get teams ready for their opener. The U played Iowa State, Creighton, and DePaul in secret scrimmages in recent years, respectively.
Welcoming 10 newcomers to the team this season, the Gophers need as much time as they've been allowed to learn a new system and build chemistry. Following the Oklahoma scrimmage, Minnesota will host Concordia-St. Paul in an exhibition game Nov. 1 at Williams Arena. The two teams were scheduled to play last year, but that preseason warmup was also canceled.
So far, the only scrimmages being played have been within the team.
One of the early surprises for the Gophers in practices has been the emergence of walk-on sophomore Will Ramberg as a potential rotation player.
The 6-5 native of Grand Marais, Minn. played in 10 games at McGill University in Montreal last season before transferring back to his home state this summer. Having scored 49 points in a high school game, Ramberg's confident offensively. But his basketball IQ and toughness has allowed him to make a smooth transition into holding his own in fall practices for the Gophers.
"Will has been great for us," Johnson said recently. "I honestly didn't know much about him because he had very little tape. But what I saw I liked because he had good size. He was hungry to be here. He wanted to be here. It means something to him."
The Gophers are thin in the frontcourt, so Ramberg could even potentially slide in to provide depth at forward this year. Johnson said he's making a strong case to play him.
"I don't know how much. I don't know if it's going to be every game," Johnson said. "But you're going to put yourself in the position. … He competes every day. He works at it every day. He's in the gym. He's a great teammate. Guys have trust in him, which is huge. Our staff is building trust with him. I'm building trust with him. I just want him to continue to grow."