And, no, I'm not ending my blog. Nice try.
It's time to preview the 2010-11 Grinnell Pioneers, coached by System creator David Arseneault; we exchanged e-mails today and he gave me the 4-1-1 on the upcoming season. Any avid reader would know Coach A (as he is affectionately know around the System world) and his team struggled a bit last year, finishing 8-15 overall and 6-10 in the NCAA Division III Midwest Conference.
The good news is all but three of those who played in more than a single game a season ago are back, which to most programs, might be seven or eight players. Nope, at Grinnell, that means 16 players return! Gone are Dylan Seelman, who did lead lead all of D-III with 4.7 3-pointers a game, along with John Bruns and Ross Preston. But leading scorer Griffin Lentsch, who was limited to 11 games because of injury but still managed to average 18.1 points as a freshman, is back, along with a host of others.
And that doesn't include a recruiting class that Coach A has raved about since last spring. One of these players is 6-foot-6 Aaron Levin from River Forest, Ill.
"I am very happy with the first-years- both athletically and personality-wise," Coach A wrote in his e-mail. "Aaron Levin ... is not only the best of the bunch but our best overall player right now!"
Pretty high praise from the guru. Unfortunately, one area that plagued the Pioneers in 2009-10 was point guard play, and Coach A still has some worries there. Scott Kaitz played there some last year, as did Dominique Bellamy, Marques Valdez, Matt Chalupa and Matt Skelly. All had their moments, yet couldn't consistently demand the double teams that is so needed in the Grinnell offense.
It's doubly difficult for Coach A, since his son, Dave, held that position for four spectacular years.
"Point guard play will again be a concern this year," Coach A wrote. "We have a first-year who is our best point guard - but he is a first year. Hard to imagine scoring big numbers minus a point guard or two who will create that extra pace by just dribbling down and shooting the ball 10-15 times a game. The points in our system are still basically pass-first players, so I think we will top out at about 110 ppg."
Of course, that would seem like a lot of points to most programs. Last year, Grinnell averaged "only" 95.9 points, still tops in Division III but not exactly where it normally is. I, for one, hope Coach A is pleasantly surprised with the point guard play and the Pioneers get off to a fast start.
The early schedule doesn't do them any favors - they open MWC play on the first weekend of December (the one year anniversary of my trip to the cornfields of Iowa!) on the road against what likely will be the top two teams in the conference. St. Norbert is ranked in many preseason D-III polls and Ripon features perhaps the best 1-2 punch in the nation: point guard Scott Gillespie and forward Aris Wurtz.
"Hard to imagine St. Norbert being displaced, given that they were 24-5 a year ago and return five starters," Coach A wrote, while breaking down the conference. "And Scott Gillespie is either the best player in the league or a close second to his teammate Aris Wurtz. So we will have our work cut out for us. But we will be better and if we can mentally survive the pre-Christmas conference schedule ... we will make a second semester run."
Before the Pioneers get into conference play, however, there's a special treat for the basketball fans of central Iowa. Just recently, one the scheduled home games against Buena Vista was moved to Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines, about a hour west of Grinnell. It will be a prelude to the Iowa Energy, an NBA D-League team and should be exciting.
"I was called by Chris Makris of the Iowa Energy just last week to see if we had interest in playing a pre-lim game for them," Coach A wrote. "It all came about rather quickly but coach Brian Van Haften of BV agreed to the concept so we are on."
That game is Nov. 22 after Grinnell opens the schedule with a visit by Lindenwood University-Belleville on Nov. 16. That is less than two weeks away, albeit barely, so that means we're that much closer to the return of The System. Pretty good stuff.
A huge thanks, as always, to Coach A for indulging me. I wish him and his team the best of luck, and I hope to check back in with him later in the season.
Meanwhile, we all know the Glenville State women's team coached by Bunky Harkleroad had an important scrimmage on Tuesday night, and he was kind of enough to send me a brief update on how it went. The NCAA Division II Pioneers (yep, same mascot as Grinnell) traveled to Cal University of Pennsylvania to meet the Vulcans, who are one of the top teams in the country.
Here's what Coach Harkleroad wrote:
"Got beat by 10, played OK. I think we’re on that level, none of our kids played over their heads and we had a lot of unforced turnovers. Cal PA does a great job defensively and are just what system teams hate to see. Very tough matchup zone looks thrown at us all night long. I think we’ll see a lot of that this season. We hadn’t worked much on that yet so last night was a great experience for us."
There were no statistics available, but Coach Harkleroad was pretty sure Glenville State didn't meet its System goals. The scoreboard was reset at halftime, too, and the overall score was 84-74 in favor of the Vulcans.
The Pioneers have one more scrimmage coming up Sunday against Clarion, and then travel to the great state of North Carolina for their first two games. WHAT?! You know I'm looking forward to that. It's a CIAA/WVIAC challenge at Elizabeth City State, and the action begins Friday, Nov. 12. I hope the season gets off to a great start for Glenville State.