30 second time outs

Saturday, February 05, 2005

Grinnell/Beloit-a case of bad timing

This was probably not the best season for ESPN to choose to promote Grinnell College and Coach Arseneault and his "Running to the Extremes System" of play. For being the first regular season all NCAA DIII game broadcasted, it certainly was not a great representation of the level of playoff caliber DIII basketball around the country. Grinnell seemed like they are very down this season. I'm certain that they'd admit that. They graduated alot after a pretty successful season. They've had some good years since implementing "The System", and went twenty-some years between league championships before "Running". That may say something about the value of the concept. I do wonder how much they would have lost by to a superior Beloit club had they played a more "conventional" style. I have to think that it would be by more than a point. So maybe the system did it's job in that regard.

But the system wasn't really implemented to win ballgames. It actually came to life from the very pure intentions of the idealism behind the "Division III Philosophy" of the educational benefits from participation and inclusion in co-curricular pusuits. So, rather than playing 8 out of 16 players and having half of his team leave the gym unhappy, Dave Arseneault from Grinnell College developed a style of play that would allow all players to play and still "get their moneys worth" in terms of the # of possessions.

To clear up a common misconception (that was perpetuated into "uban legend" by the somewhat ill-prepared ESPN announcers) the "System" that Grinnell runs is not the same as the LMU system. The only similiarity involves the frequency of shots. The Grinnell System is far more complex. That being said, it's the first time I've seen Grinnell, after seeing the University of Redlands, who also use the style, several times. Another ESPN perpetuated fallacy is that Grinnell is the nations top scoring team. At this time, that title would go to the UofR, who happen to be out "Grinnell-ing" Grinnell. Another misconception is that it is an "undisciplined" style of play. If disciplined is defined as "doing what has to be done, doing it as well as you can do it, doing it when it has to be done, doing it that way all the time." (Bob Knight), then Grinnell/Redlands are as disciplined as any team out there.

Their (very)Fast Break is extremely structured and flows into a secondary break that is equally disciplined. The sequence of curls, cuts, screens, slips, drives and shots are ALL well thought out,sequenced and yes, disciplined. The offense is far more structured than most teams that run a true "motion offense" as that allows for more freedom of movement than does this offense. But they do have freedom to shoot. Early and often. Ive seen Redlands score 172 points and not take a bad shot. Not one "contested" 3pt shot - all of them open ones. They are also very cognisant of who has the "hot hand" and will continue to try to get that player open 3pt looks with double screens and drive&kicks.Only wide open and uncontested drives to the basket and not one single "driveintothelaneleaveyourfeetandthrowupanykindof-BSoffbalanceshotyoucangetoffandhopeitgoesin".
You'll usually see 5-10 of those in any game you watch.They always have a positive assist/turnover ratio and their total number is relatively low for a team with that many possessions. I see much "sloppier" play from teams that play a more conventional style.

As a DIII guy at heart I was a little disappointed in the telecast, to say the least. I'll attribute some of the poor shooting to the setting (ESPN, hype, big game, etc) but there are several things that I noticed that had a great effect on this years Grinnell version in comparison to the University of Redlands edition of the "Grinnell System". If you watched or taped the game, maybe these things come to mind as well.

1)Grinnell was rarely "shot ready" on the catch. That led to contested shots and slowed down possessions. UofR does not need nearly the time to get off an open shot.

2)Grinnell seemed rather "indecisive" on the catch. They used more "rocker moves" and shot fakes than UofR will use in the entire season.

3)When Grinnell did put the ball on the floor, it did not seem as though they were very efficient with the dribble. They were taking 3 or 4 dribbles, when they could get to the basket or draw help with 2.

4)Grinnell screens, cuts, and curls were not as solid as they need to be. Therefore, players were either not open or not open quick enough to continue the desired pace. UofR sets better doubles and either fades or curls tight and very quickly. The screeners need to slip the screen or pop if the screen is curled. UofR gets several layups (which Grinnell missed several) off of the screeners slipping to the basket while the defense gets out on shooters.

5)After an opponents score the Grinnell inbounds pass must be quicker and further up the floor. Grinnell would catch substantially below the FT line after every made basket, thus wasting a few seconds each possession.

6) The PG must be more aggressive going to the basket and make his reads quicker. Either take it to the hole, pull up for the 3, explore the double screen action and make the correct decision, or hit the trailer and get involved in the cutting and screening himself. The Grinnell PG's looked rather tentative in those decisions.

7)Grinnell left something to be desired when it comes to their passing. Potential shooters rarely caught the basketball in a position to shoot.Each of these factors contributed to a less than successful possession or slowed the tempo a few seconds each time. This is crucial to their goals. 3 wasted seconds in 50 bad possesions would create 15 more possessions.

Defensively, I don't like the "get a steal or give up a layup" thing. Redlands at least attempts to take several charges a game. I might go a step further and demand that the defender either try to take a charge, run past the dribbler in an attempt to "strip" the dribbler, or attack the layup at the glass. I do understand that a foul is counterproductive, so you have to avoid those. Conference teams appear to have the press figured out by the time league rolls around and are disciplined enough to get the ball up the floor and have knocked off Redlands in a few close ones. The number of close games that are lost may be affected by this simple defensive adjustment.

As to players getting tired and the substitution pattern, all you need to do is look at track and field times to realize that if you are truly in a full sprint, your pace will slow after 100 meters(10-15 seconds) and it is really difficult to keep up that sprint beyond 400 meters (:45-1:30). There may be something more scientific than arbitrary to the :45 - 1:30 rotations.

All told, I'm not certain that I could play entirely this way but it does seem to be a viable alternative. And it does have a way of masking inferior players a little. It clearly is more effective if the players don't need as much masking. But no questioning that it does what it was created to do.

After giving it some thought, if I were to go AGAINST the system this is what I'm thinking. It's tough for all five guys to run the floor with teams that play this style. Especially for big guys. I saw a portion of a game where a 7'3" opponent spent most of his time running from top of the key to the top of the other key, just trying to catch up to the play. Try this on for size. How about keeping 1 big player at your offensive end and 1 big player at the defensive end. Then let your perimeter guys run the transition stuff. So you'd have a defender/inbounder, 3 transition guys, and a finsher. If you score your finisher can pressure and slow the inbounds pass, and you already have a big defender all the way back. 1 transition guy could deny the PG the ball and the other 2 could run and defend the weakside double. If they score your inbounder can throw deep to the finisher, who's already under your basket. And the cycle continues.

You might score 200!

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