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Grinnell Preview

As a near-daily reader
of this website and an alum and employee of Iowa’s Grinnell
College, I feel it’s my duty to help prepare my fellow DBR
readers a bit for this Thursday’s game on ESPN2 (9:00 p.m.
Eastern). The Pioneers of Grinnell will take on the Beloit (WI)
Buccaneers in what is believed to be the first nationally-televised
DIII game.

Why on Earth is ESPN2
coming to a town of 9,500 in the middle of some snowy, windswept,
barren cornfields to broadcast this game? Both teams are under .500,
and it’s not like either of these teams have a single player
that anyone off-campus could name.

The answer to that is
easy: The System.

The best way to picture
The System is how a normal basketball team plays when they’re
down 8 with 1:30 to go in the game, minus the fouling to stop the
clock. Full-court press, take risks in order to get steals, shoot
nothing but threes, crash the boards, run like you stole something.
Also, remember that you can’t score if you don’t have the
ball, and the more you have the ball, the more you can score. So if
you just stop playing defense and let the other team have a lay-up so
that you can run down and hit a three on the other end, that’s
a good thing, as long as you take a shot within 12 seconds of taking

Over 40 minutes,
though, The System can exhaust players. So every 35-45 seconds,
Grinnell substitutes a fresh wave of 5 guys. This, of course, means
that between 16-18 players get in the game every game, and nobody
plays more than 20 minutes. Not even that night when one Grinnell
player went off for 31 points in 13 minutes. Good job, son. Now
have a seat.

In the end, only one
thing matters in The System. Score more than your opponent. Just
put the ball in the hoop as much as you can, and don’t worry
about how much the other guys score. Zen Basketball, if you will.
It’s a good thing the scorekeeper is a math professor. With

Specifically, Grinnell
tries to achieve five goals in every game under The System:

  1. Take at least 94
  2. Half of them must
    be 3-pointers
  3. Take 25 more shots
    than the other team does
  4. Force 32 turnovers
  5. Rebound 1/3 of
    your missed shots

Legend has it that the
architect of The System, Grinnell Coach David Arsenault, came up with
these five goals by giving an assignment to some of his players who
were math majors taking an advanced stats course: figure out which
statistical differences in basketball give your team the greatest
chance of winning. The players looked at 60 categories, and came up
with these five.

Arsenault took this
info and thought more about his team. In DIII, when players don’t
get game minutes, a lot of times they leave the team – why
practice and travel if you’re never going to play? Nobody was
coming to watch games. He had smart players (Grinnell’s
average SAT is 1350), but not always the most athletic players.

And thus The System was

Does The System work?
Well, the Pioneers score a lot, that’s for sure. Over 126 ppg
last season, an all-divisions record for college basketball. And
they once broke the 100-point mark in 28 straight games spanning two
seasons. Actually, they’ve set a ton of records (see list at
end; you may remember Jeff Clement, whose name is on most of those
records, from the NCAA 3-Point Shootout during the Final Four weekend
in ’99 when he took on Trajan Langdon). They’ve also won
a lot more than they did when they played Boring Old Basketball.
Last year, with Grinnell’s all-time leading scorer Steve Wood
at the point, they even won the conference championship. This year?
They’re 4-13 so far. (Bad timing, ESPN2!) So you might say
that The System works…sometimes.

Unless you define
success differently, that is. After all, how many DIII schools
routinely pack 1200 fans into the gym for every single game, both
home and away? How many DIII schools guarantee that everyone
gets to play in every game, and nobody who comes out for the team
gets cut? How many schools at any level have everyone play their
heart out on every possession, because they know they’ll be
sitting in a few seconds? How many DIII schools get to be on ESPN2?

By those standards, The
System is amazingly successful.

There are certainly
critics of The System, people who argue that it bastardizes the game,
and that Grinnell players don’t learn the fundamentals of
defense. To which I say: So? I mean, it’s not like the NBA
(which seems to be defense-optional anyway, does it not?) is looking
for any of these guys. They’re out to have fun and play
basketball when they’re not studying, which is most of the
time. So they’re worse rec league players at their local Y in
a dozen years. Big deal. I’ll take that as a trade for
everyone getting off the pine and in the game before 1200 screaming
fans (which reminds me: look for Grinnell’s student body, The
Scarlet Sea, DIII’s answer to the Cameron Crazies. There is
even less separation between stands and floor here than there is in
the ACC. Sometime it seems like The System was made just to
encourage rabid fans.)

Whenever a DI fan reads
about The System, there is always the inevitable, “Hmmm…I
wonder how Grinnell would do against a DI team?” query. I’ll
take care of that one for you: not good. Really, really not good.
Grinnell played Drake last year. And despite managing to drop 110
points on a DI team, they let a very mediocre Bulldogs squad score
162 points. The System isn’t that great of an

At least Arsenault
makes it look like easy work. He spends most of the game seated at
the far end of the bench, sipping on a cup of water and watching the
game. A volunteer assistant coach is in charge of substitutions.
More than once I’ve walked in 5-10 minutes into a game, through
the doors that bring you in next to the bench, and had Arsenault look
up, “Oh, hey! Welcome. Glad you could make it.” I
half-expect him to move over to make room on the bench for me (he
probably would if I asked him to).

This game is one of the
first in Grinnell’s
Athletic Center. The gym actually plays a crucial role in the game:
Grinnell jacks up the heat in the place, then packs in the fans.
Remember this fact on Thursday night when you see the crowd in
Special Commemorative Tank Tops and T-Shirts: this is WINTER IN IOWA.
It’s cold, cold, cold outside. But it’s probably 95
degrees in that gym. All part of the strategy to just wear out the
other team.

And what about that
other team? Beloit comes to town in the role of the Washington
Generals, poor souls. Nobody wants to see them win – we’re
here for the show, so pass the popcorn! Actually, ESPN2 did a good
job picking the game. Beloit has the horses to run with the
Pioneers, and the coach is willing to drop the reins and let his team
go. Look for the winner to end up with about 150 points in this one.
Unfortunately, though, Beloit will have one advantage that no other
Grinnell opponent has ever had: TV timeouts to help catch their
breath. The System may have found its Kryptonite.

By the way, if you’re
thinking of coming to the game and are wondering about tickets,
they’re available at the door. Commemorative “I Was
There” tickets, that is. No, not for SALE, silly! We don’t
do anything as gauche as CHARGE MONEY for tickets! Ha! No, everyone
gets in free, first-come, first-served. Doors open at 4:45, women
play at 5:30, 4th and 5th graders at halftime,
as always.

So tune in this
Thursday for The Greatest Show On Hardwood. If you like 3-pointers,
full-court presses, true scholar-athletes, a tiny town in the
spotlight, and a playground ethos of “Everyone gets to play,”
you’ll have a blast. So don the scarlet and black, give a
hearty, “GO GRINNELL!,” and have some fun.

We will be.

--Doug Cutchins

NCAA Records Held by


77 Jeff Clement vs.
Illinois Coll. (2/18/1998)
37.3 Steve
Diekmann,1995 (745 pts in 20 games)
Games Scoring at Least 50

3 Jeff Clement, 1998
Jeff Clement, 1996-99
4 Steve Diekmann, 1993-95

68—Jeff Clement vs. Illinois
Coll. (2/18/1998)
Three-Point Field Goals Made
Jeff Clement vs. Illinois Coll. (2/18/1998)
Jeff Clement, 1998 (511 attempts)
516 Jeff
Clement, 1996-99 (1,532 attempts)
Three-Point Field Goals Made
Per Game

8.5 Jeff Clement, 1998 (186 in 22
5.7 Jeff Clement, 1996-99 (516 in 91
Three-Point Field-Goal Attempts
Jeff Clement vs. Illinois Coll. (2/18/1998)
Jeff Clement, 1998
1,532 Jeff Clement,
Three-Point Field-Goal Attempts Per Game
Jeff Clement, 1998 (511 in 22 games)
16.8 Jeff
Clement, 1996-99 (1,532 in 91 games)
game records

Points by Losing Team
149 Lawrence vs.
Grinnell (150) (1/25/2003)
Grinnell vs. Illinois Col. (157)
Points, Both Teams
315 Simpson (167) vs.
Grinnell (148) (11/19/1994)
Field-Goal Attempts
Grinnell vs. Simpson (11/25/1995) (52 made)
Three-Point Field
Goals Made

32 Grinnell vs. Clarke (12/3/1997) (78
Three-Point Field Goals, Both Teams
Grinnell (30) vs. Colorado Coll. (5) (11/17/1995)
Number of
Different Players to Score a Three-Point Field Goal, One Team

Grinnell vs. Monmouth (Ill.) (2/14/1998)
Three-Point Field-Goal

86 Grinnell vs. Pillsbury (12/7/1999) (31 made)
Throws made, Both Teams

93 Grinnell (50) vs. Beloit (43)
Free-Throw Percentage
92.6% (Min. 45 made)
Grinnell vs. Beloit (1/10/1998) (50 of 54)
Assists, Both

79 Simpson (53) vs. Grinnell (26) (11/25/1995)
Fouls, Both Teams

80 Grinnell (46) vs. St. Norbert (34)
3,119 Grinnell,
2003 (25 games)
Average Per Game
126.2 Grinnell, 2004
(3,029 in 24)
Games at Least 100 Points
23 Grinnell,
2002 (24-game season)
Consecutive Games at Least 100 Points
Grinnell, from Nov. 23, 2002, to Feb. 8, 2003
Consecutive Games
at Least 100 Points (Multiple Seasons)

28 Grinnell, from Jan.
25, 2002, to Feb. 8, 2003
Free Throws made Per

23.7 Grinnell, 1995 (498 in 21)
Attempted Per Game

33.2 Grinnell, 1995 (698 in 21)
Per Game

30.9 Grinnell, 1998 (679 in 22)