Thursday, January 1, 2009


OK, I'll admit it. I have a bit of an obsession with the basketball team at Grinnell College. Never heard of it? You have now.

The Pioneers, who play in the NCAA Division III Midwest Conference, use a pressing, high-octane system that allows them to score points like no other team in the country. So far, through seven games, they are averaging 126.6 points, with more than 130 in five games. One player, John Groterg, scores 37 points a game, while point guard David Arsenault (the coach's son) drops more than 13 dimes a game (dimes is a hip way of saying assists).

As my good buddy John Maultsby would point out, Grinnell also gives up a lot of points, although a lot less than it scores. The average point differential of 21 points is among the best in all of Division III, so the Pioneers obviously do what they do pretty well.

It reminds me so much of my all-time favorite college hoops team, the 1989-90 Loyola Marymount Lions. Most everyone remembers those guys, with Bo Kimble honoring his best friend, Hank Gathers, who collapsed and died during a West Coast Conference tournament game. The Lions roared (wow, that's bad) all the way to the Elite Eight, where eventual tourney winner UNLV ended their season. LMU's victory over Michigan in the second round still is the best game ever, a 149-115 rout of the defending national champions.

Jeff Fryer, a guard for the Lions, dropped in 11 3-pointers in that one and scored 41 points. Kimble added 37. In the second half alone, LMU outscored the favored Wolverines 84-57. Wow.

But I digress. Back to Grinnell ...

The Pioneers take what coach Paul Westhead did at LMU a step further by concentrating the majority of their offense on 3s. Grotberg has shot 128 in seven games (more than 18 a game), and Grinnell puts up 64 each outing as a team. Yep, that's right, 64! Amazing.

All the gambling with traps forces about 32 turnovers, too, making up for the fact that opponents rarely miss when they hold on to the ball. The Pioneers give up 62 percent shooting, which likely would drive most coaches crazy. But it's all part of coach David Arsenault's plan.

To execute it, he relies on a rotation that resembles something you'd see from a hockey team. When Grinnell subs, it usually is with at least four new players, and often five. Remember John Grotberg, the leading scorer? He is on the floor for 23 minutes a game, barely more than half. So far, 14 players have seen action in all seven games, with three more getting in six.

Don't worry, I'll keep you up to date as the Pioneers get into the heart of their schedule. They return to action Saturday against Wheaton College.

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