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home : columns : joel alvstad May 24, 2016

11/28/2012 9:45:00 AM
'The System' strikes chord with this fan

Joel Alvstad
Sports Editor

I'll admit that I was a bit stunned when I saw last week that a player for Division III Grinnell College in Iowa had shattered the NCAA scoring record with 138 points in a single game.
To put up that many points in a single game, a team has to jack up a ton of shots, let alone a single player.
But sophomore guard Jack Taylor, who estimated his previous career-best game to be about 45 points in high school, did the unprecedented in his team's game on Nov. 20.
Taylor alone hoisted 108 shots, hitting 52. He was 27-of-71 from three-point range.
In short, he was a product of "the system."
Grinnell Coach Dave Arsenault subscribes to the philosophy made famous by Loyola Marymount Coach Paul Westhead in the early 1990s. The high-scoring approach is predicated on setting a blistering pace.
The pace is established with a pressing defense and an offense that doesn't waste time milking the shot clock. Westhead's teams were famous for putting up a shot within seven seconds of gaining possession. Arsenault's teams, on average, take about 12 seconds to put up a shot.
But Arsenault also goes deeper. Each player has a specific role on both offense and defense. The goal isn't just to take any shot, it is to set up a high-percentage shot within 12 seconds. About half of the shots are three-pointers. Grinnell has been among the nation's leading teams in scoring and three-point shooting over the past decade.
The system also requires a lot of bodies. Grinnell typically rotates 12 to 15 players, cycling them through like one would see in a hockey game.
The theory is simple, yet complicated. Wear the other team, particularly their inside presences, down. That fatigue leads to poorer shot selection, poorer shot success, a lack of intensity on the rebounds and general slowness on defense.
The theory is built on a team taking at least 25 more shots per game than their opponents, which will more often than not lead to wins.
Is it a niche? If so, Grinnell has it carved out perfectly. They've been to the NCAA Division III Tournament three times.
Is it a fad? Probably not, since Arsenault's teams have been running this since he took over. Yet, other teams have not ventured into such unusual waters.
Could it work elsewhere, like in the Big 10? Possibly, but not many teams can force Wisconsin to pick up its pace.
Ultimately, Arsenault's approach is about encouraging a fun environment for the team. The high-scoring squads have also been among NCAA Division III attendance leaders.
Is a 138-point performance by a single player remarkable? Sure. But put it into this context. A coach is paid to win games. Grinnell's coach feels that the best way to win games is to simply outscore the competition. And if his team happens to have a player with a really hot hand, any coach would ride that player until he couldn't shoot any more.
Obviously, "The System" isn't for every team. If it were, then more teams would run it.
But as a basketball fan, it is always interesting to hear about what forces are at work behind such a high-scoring game. And it would make me curious to see "The System" at work.

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