Sunday, August 28, 2011

Speaking of System against System ...

Remember a recent post about two high school girls' teams running the System who just happened to play each other in a summer camp? Really, you don't remember? Just scroll down a bit, then, it's just a couple of updates below this one. There, now your memory is refreshed.

This does happen extremely infrequently. To my knowledge, the original System team, the Division III men's squad at Grinnell, never has faced another team using this style in the 20 years since coach David Arseneault first created it. That, perhaps more than any other statistic, describes just how unconventional The System is.

Well, back a few years ago, a pair of coaches who believe in this way to play set up a pair of games for their teams. Doug Porter, the women's coach at NAIA Olivet Nazarene, and Bunky Harkleroad, now the women's coach at NCAA Division II Glenville State, had become friends once both decided to "take the plunge," in System vernacular, so they decided to play each other.

This was when Coach Harkleroad was at NAIA Berea College in Kentucky, which played in Division II (ONU was in Division I). Also, Coach Porter's program offered scholarships to its players while Berea didn't, so the two programs weren't quite on the same level at the time.

Both games were won by Olivet Nazarene, including a 112-72 victory in the first one, but the second one was much closer. Berea fell behind by 10 at halftime and rallied to make it a game before losing 106-101.

Given both teams were interested in getting up and down, the scores seem a little low, but I'll let both coaches address that. Each was kind enough to send a note with his memories of those games. First up is Coach Porter.

Doug Porter: "We scheduled the game because we thought it would be interesting to have two System teams face off. I’d known Bunky for awhile already, and he was a big help in getting started with the System because his team at Berea did it before we did. He also came and spoke at our 2005 System clinic here at ONU.

"The game was somewhat anticlimactic in the sense that it wasn’t quite as high scoring as I’d expected. ONU won 112-72, but were actually down at halftime by 8-10 points, as I recall. Bunky told me later they’d had some dissention in the locker room at halftime which explained their subpar performance in the second half.

"From a statistical standpoint, it was interesting to see that we shot fewer 3s than normal (34) while taking 89 shots overall. This was because we pressed each other, resulting in more open layups for both teams. We could have elected to take the three after breaking Berea’s press, but we apparently got lots of good layup chances (just as they did against us!). The big difference seemed to be the turnover differential. We forced 45 TOs, while committing “only” 24 ourselves. Not sure how to explain that ... I guess Berea — as a System team — was not used to being pressed, but I would have expected us to turn it over more as well.

"We also played at Berea in 2007-08, winning a close game 106-101. That game we turned it over 40 times vs. Berea’s press, while forcing them into 46 turnovers. The score is surprising, again, because you’d expect that with a tempo that fast we’d both create more points. But I see they were only 12-43 from the arc, while we weren’t much better at 13-43. The excessive turnovers, however, seem to be the key reason why neither team scored consistently that game. I guess 106-101 seems like a high scoring game to some, but in the case of two System teams going head to head, I think the score would have been much higher if we’d both just agreed to run and shoot, without pressing. After all, much of the reason for using a press in the System is to force tempo, and there’s certainly no need to do that vs. another System team!"

Great stuff there from Coach Porter. Now, here are Coach Harkleroad's thoughts.

Bunky Harkleroad: "We actually played twice, once at ONU. Close game at half and then we couldn’t buy a bucket and got beat by about 50. The next (time) we played at Berea. I had a friend dying of cancer and I actually wasn’t at the game but ONU prevailed in a close battle. Both games were kinda odd if you ask me. We seemed to offset each other and it wasn’t as exciting as a System team playing a team that 'took the bait' and tried to run with. We both ended up straying in a few subtle areas to offset the other team.

"At Berea we had zero scholarships and were NAIA D2 whereas ONU takes athletics seriously and I think they had 10 scholarships. Regardless, they were clearly the better team and Coach Porter did (and still does) an amazing job. In my humble opinion, it’s hard when two System teams go at it because the bottom line is both teams want to win and will do whatever it takes, even if that means making adjustments that get you away from true System ball."

Again, really good information from Coach Harkleroad. I appreciate their time very much, and I hope everyone out there reading did, as well. I anxiously anticipate the upcoming season, where ONU and Glenville State again should challenge for conference championships and a trip to their respective national tournaments.

Good luck to both teams!

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