How Grinnell College Bastardizes Basketball To Set Records

How Grinnell College Bastardizes Basketball To Set RecordsS

Jack Taylor's at it again. The senior guard at D-III Grinnell College scored 109 points yesterday, the third-highest total in NCAA history. The record holder? Taylor, who poured in 138 in a game last year. How does he do it?

Taylor is averaging 90 ppg through the Pioneers' first two games, having attempted 122 shots and 77 three-pointers. It has very little to do with Taylor, and everything to do with Grinnell coach David Arseneault and his "System." The System is designed to inflate a single player's statistics. A two-man full court press, with the chosen player not moving back on defense, gives opponents a 5-on-3 and encourages them to take quick shots. (This results in a lot of wide-open layups. In Taylor's 109 point game, opponent Crossroads kept feeding Andy Carson, who scored 50 points on 25-of-27 from the field.)

Long outlet passes are then sent to the chosen player, who shoots open threes to his heart's content. Teammates are instructed to pass to him even if means turning down open shots of their own. Once opponents are in the double-bonus, Grinnell players foul immediately to get the ball back quickly.

This year and last, the focal point is Taylor. But it can be anyone—Arseneault-coached players have set the D-III scoring record three times. Arseneault has made a cottage industry of the System, with his second book being released this past summer.

But fans and media remain seduced by big numbers. Taylor's games this season have again received national attention, invariably by outlets that don't watch the games and don't worry about how those gaudy numbers are racked up.

Below, our story from last year on Grinnell's System—and why it shouldn't be celebrated.

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D-III Player's 138 Point-Game Is A Sham Record And Shouldn't Be Celebrated By Anyone

D-III Player's 138 Point-Game Is A Sham Record And Shouldn't Be Celebrated By Anyone

Jack Taylor, of the Grinnell College Pioneers, scored 138 points in a game last night, against Faith Baptist Bible College. It's a mindblowing number, shattering the old NCAA mark of 113, and it's being trumpeted as one of sports' all-time individual achievements. It is not. It is bullshit. It is just the latest incarnation of Grinnell's decades-old strategy of seeking media attention for records achieved through a complete bastardization of basketball.

David Arseneault is the man behind the plan. Since becoming Grinnell coach in 1989, Arseneault has focused less on putting together a successful team and more on getting his players' names in the record books. And, not incidentally, selling books and videos touting his innovative "system." At least three separate times a Grinnell player has set the D-III single-game scoring record, and each one has gotten national attention. In 1998, Jeff Clement went for 77 points, and received a story in Sports Illustrated. Last season Griffin Lentsch scored 89 points, and got a feature on ESPN.com. Today, Taylor's 138-point game is everywhere.

Arseneault describes his system:

94S + 47 3's + 33%OR + 25SD + 32 TO's = W
The ‘Formula for Success' has withstood the test of time. Since 1996, whenever the Pioneers have attempted 94 shots, with half of those shots from behind the arc, offensive rebounded 33% of their missed shot attempts, taken 25 more shots than their opponent and forced the opposition into committing 32 turnovers, they have won at nearly a 95% clip.

But it's much more than just taking a lot of threes, or winning the turnover battle. According to a former Grinnell player who took part in one of those record-setting games, the gameplan is designed from the outset to get a specific player the scoring mark, even at the expense of making a mockery of the game. The player told Deadspin:

"The strategy was to use a full court press after a made basket, with the caveat that [the player seeking the record] would not cross into the defensive side of the court. So, after our opponents broke our press, we were essentially playing four-on-five, which enabled the other team to take quicker shots and fall into our game plan.

"The rationale is to essentially trade off a quick two or more attempts at lower probability 3-point shots. Given the high pace required for the system, Grinnell shifts in five players every 30 to 45 seconds. Within each shift there is a primary shooter who will take the bulk of threes (or shots) during the shift."

This worked to perfection last night, and you can see it in the play-by-play. Grinnell would regularly sub out four players at a time, keeping Taylor on the court to continue chucking up threes—71 attempts from beyond the arc, to be specific. He also rarely bothered getting back on defense, with Grinnell content to let Faith Baptist score a quick two, if they didn't turn the ball over immediately. Taylor finished with just three rebounds, all off his own misses.

This, then, is how you score 138 points—a defense designed to get the ball back as fast as possible, even if it means letting the other team score. And the entire offense being funneled through one player, at the expense of turning down open shots. Tyler Burns rewatched the entire game, and had a few observations:

There were a LOT of possessions where Taylor would chuck up a shot, miss, and his teammate would get the rebound wide open under the basket. Instead of putting it back up, he would look for Taylor again and pass it out so he could chuck another three. There were many possessions where this happened three times each. Six three-point attempts in two trips down the court.

Literally 75% of [Faith Baptist's] points were full court heaves to get it over Grinnell's press, then a wide open layup on the other end. Oh, and David Larsen's "impressive" 70-point effort? Hardly. They were 90% wide open layups. He maybe took a handful of jump shots.

Wilt Chamberlain's 100 points were also achieved through a concerted effort to get him the ball, but at least it came against NBA competition. Grinnell may as well have been playing against five random guys thrown together at the Y. Faith Baptist Bible College is a school of 330 students, and isn't even in the NCAA. They're not even NAIA. They play in the National Christian College Athletic Association, and Division II of the NCCAA at that.

Last night's game counted as an exhibition for Faith Baptist, but was somehow a regular season game for Grinnell.

Why does the level of the opposition matter? Because Arseneault and Grinnell specifically plan their record-breaking games against inferior opponents. Tyler Burns again:

The announcer actually said that Grinnell will look on their schedule for their weaker opponents and do everything they can to run up the score and break records. This is all within the game plan. One tactic the announcer mentioned was called "The Bomb Squad". If Grinnell's opponent gets into the double bonus, Grinnell will sub in five freshmen players, foul their opponent immediately once the ball is in play, send them to the line, then sub the freshmen players out to put their scorers back in on offense. This takes almost no time off the clock, giving their starters as many offensive possessions as possible.

Jack Taylor set a record, but it's an empty one. Important records come naturally in the flow of competition, not as some freakshow designed to make SportsCenter. Taylor took 108 shots by himself, the same number as Indiana and Georgetown took last night combined. (They scored 154 points between them.) Taylor shot 49 percent from the field, 38 percent from three. These are the only figures that ought to matter when judging his evening, yet no one will remember anything but his 138 points. Because it's much easier to tout an inflated scoring figure than to actually watch the game, and realize just how empty and artificial the achievement is.

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