Friday, November 30, 2012

A great trip to watch The System in person as Glenville State rolls

BLUEFIELD, W.Va. -- The best way to enjoy The System is live and in person. Thankfully, I had an another opportunity to do so, and even took a neophyte with me to share this glorious style of basketball.

Good friend Jason Lutz and I rode up to West Virginia on Thursday to catch the NCAA Division II women's team from Glenville State, a great program in its fourth season with The System. Seriously, how can you not enjoy a group of players who would do that for the team photo (hmm, just look at the top of blog)? Those of who familiar with this blog know the coach at Glenville State has perhaps the greatest name in all of collegiate athletics: Bunky Harkleroad.

Coach Harkleroad and the Pioneers traveled south from their campus to take on West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference foe Bluefield State. In the past few seasons, this trip has been relatively easy, since the Lady Blues had fallen on hard times. That no longer is the case, thanks to a wonderful rebuilding job by Bluefield State coach James Oliver.

Two years ago, when I most recently made my way to Bluefield to watch these two teams go at it, Coach Oliver had about eight players who quickly found themselves ran out of Ned Shott Gymnasium. The final that day was 118-63 in favor of Coach Harkleroad's team, a result that really wasn't that close. And the season before, the Pioneers set all-division NCAA records with 29 3-pointers on 62 attempts in a 133-72 victory.

But the roster now has depth and talent, and talented depth, even, which helped Bluefield State beat Pitt-Johnstown 81-79 on the road earlier this season in a WVIAC game. So this one figured to be a little closer than the previous games.

After 20 minutes of play, you would have had a hard time making that argument. Glenville State jumped all over the Lady Blues from the start and led 62-37 at the break, a dominating stretch of basketball that left most of the home fans grumbling. I should know, one of them sat not too far behind me and Jason and critiqued nearly every play of the first half.

It didn't get much better for Bluefield State immediately after halftime, and when Pioneers forward Kenyona Simmons made one of two at the line about 5 minutes into the second half, the margin was 29 points at 75-46. I already was calculating how many points Simmons and her teammates would put on the scoreboard, wondering if they would beat the 118 that I saw on my previous trip.

Just as quickly. the Lady Blues came to life.

Jenaya Abernathy started the rally with a pair of free throws before Charity Harris took over. The junior guard from Vineland, N.J., went on a personal 10-point spurt, making the overall run 12-0, and Bluefield State miraculously was within 17.

Now, that sounds like a huge lead, right? That's what I told myself, yet with the late-arriving crowd making enough noise to cover the running commentary from the dude a few rows behind us, it sort of felt as it was much, MUCH closer. The Lady Blues hastened this comeback by switching from their man-to-man defense to a spread out 2-3 zone.

The change stymied the Pioneers, who missed six consecutive shots in this span and turned it over four times. But a team as good as them wouldn't fold, and Tiffani Huffman responded with a clutch 3-pointer to boost the lead to 78-58.

It stabilized for a bit until Bluefield State got it going again, closing to 80-67 on a tip-in by Tiffany Moorer. Once again, Glenville State responded, with Ashleigh Fossett swishing a 3, and soon the margin was 21 again.

Anyone sensing a theme? I wondered if the Lady Blues had another run in them, even as I never doubted Coach Harkleroad's team would fight it off. Sure enough, here came Bluefield State, helped immensely by two questionable calls against Glenville State center LaToya Hambrick with about 5 and a half minutes remaining.

First, when she went straight up for an offensive rebound and grabbed the ball, with no contact between her and Moorer, one of the referees whistled her for over-the-back. And when Hambrick showed her surprise, directed only toward her teammates on the bench, the trailing referee hit her up with a technical.

Terrible, terrible call, something that happens occasionally on the road. Charlene Diggs made both shots at the line for the T, and Moorer converted her two for the foul. When Diggs added two more free throws about 60 seconds later, the Glenville State lead was down to 95-83, "only" 12 points.

This time it was Ginny Mills coming through with a big shot for the Pioneers, as her 3-pointer off an assist from Simmons got the spread by to 15 with about 4 minutes left, and this time, Bluefield State was done. Jessica Parsons (no relation) knocked down another 3 a minute later and Glenville State cruised from there.

The final was 111-93, a solid victory on the road against a vastly improved program. Huffman, Fossett, Mills and Parsons all made such important shots to secure this one, a testament to the chemistry Coach Harkleroad has this season.

Simmons led the way with 26 points and Mills had 23, with Fossett (13), Parsons (11) and Hambrick (10) also reaching double figures. Simmons added four steals, Hambrick had eight rebounds and the point guard tandem of Parsons and Jelena Elez combined for eight dimes.

After it was over and we were waiting to give Coach Harkleroad a shoutout before leaving, Hambrick made her way over to where Jason and I were standing. She introduced herself and thanked us for coming, and we had a nice conversation while watching the early stages of the men's game.

She eventually went to find a seat in the bleachers, and she quickly was replaced by Simmons. At this point, I was sensing a theme, so I asked her, "Did your coach tell you I was here?"

She smiled and nodded her head, and others followed them, including Huffman and Briauna Nix. Then Coach Harkleroad and his assistant, former Glenville State player Kim Stephens, spent a few minutes with us, then we were on the road home.

It was bittersweet, I'm not going to lie. I savored each second of the game, since I don't know when I'll see one of my favorite teams in person again. A huge thanks to everybody who made a point to say hello, and as always, a huge thanks to Coach Harkleroad for being a believer and an advocate for The System. It truly is the most exciting style of hoops I've ever seen, even if Jason said he wasn't totally sold yet.

That's OK. That just means I'll have to take him to see other teams which get it done this way. I've got no problem with that.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Life returns to normal (somewhat) in Grinnell in loss to William Penn

The hysteria and frenzy that came with Jack Taylor's simply incredible 138-point offensive explosion has lessened at Grinnell College, even if it hasn't completely gone away.

ESPN visited Iowa over the weekend to catch up with Jack and his parents, along with coach Dave Arseneault, and put together a really nice vignette that ran on SportsCenter late Sunday through early Monday. The TV crew was on hand for the Pioneers' first game following Taylor's record-setting performance, and it was treated to a great game -- even if the wrong team won.

Taylor was held to 21 points and William Penn's Brandon Beasley finished with 26 points and 17 rebonds as the Statesmen remained unbeaten this season with a 131-116 victory over Grinnell on Sunday. James Devlin added 17 points and Keith Steffeck had 16 points and 14 rebounds for William Penn (12-0), an NAIA member from just down Interstate 80 from Grinnell in Oskaloosa, Iowa.

Back in the normal rotation and shifts, Taylor was 6-for-21 from the field, including 3-for-13 on 3-pointers, in 17 minutes of run. Teammate Griffin Lentsch led the way with 28 points despite shooting 10-for-35, 6-for-23 from the arc.

Aaron Levin, who missed all of last season with an injury, got off pretty well and scored 18 points, including four 3s.

The Statesmen led by as many as 15 points in the second half, and the margin still was 13 with 5:30 remaining on a layup by Devlin. But consecutive 3-pointers from Lentsch in the span of 45 seconds cut it to seven, and Grinnell appeared poised for a patented System comeback.

It wasn't to be. Levin's 3 later made it a nine-point game with about 3 minutes remaining before William Penn regained control and closed it out.

Pretty odd boxscore. The Pioneers exceeded all five of their goals in this game, which means they should win about 90 percent of the time. Here are The Formula numbers from this one:

-  Attempted 113 shots (goal is 94)
- Attempted 65 3-pointers (goal is 47)
- Rebounded 35 percent of their own misses (goal is 33 percent)
- Forced 36 turnovers (goal is 32)
- Attempted 33 more shots than William Penn (shot differential goal is 25)

So all in all, a pretty good effort for the good guys. A huge crowd of 1,711 turned out at Darby Gym to watch, which is about 1,000 more than normal. Nice to see people appreciating the program.

Grinnell opens play in the Midwest Conference on Wednesday, traveling to Knox. Game time is scheduled for 8 p.m. EST, and you know I'll be watching.


The Cardinals got their first road victory Saturday at Benedictine, using 17 points from Jenny Swanson to win 96-91. Swanson was 5-for-9 on 3-pointers.

Maryssa Cladis added 14 points, Emily Murphy had 11 and Kimberly Wilson finished with 10 for North Central College (2-2), where former Olivet Nazarene coach Doug Porter is helping head coach Michelle Roof install The System.

Along the way, the Cardinals put up some great numbers:

- Attempted 93 shots
- Attempted 60 3-pointers
- Rebounded 42 percent of their own misses
- Forced 33 turnovers
- Attempted 16 more shots than Benedictine

This was the second nice effort of the week for NCC. On Wednesday, unbeaten Monmouth rallied in the second half for a 98-87 victory. The Cardinals still had five players reach double figures: Amanda Hoye (13), Cladis (11), Murphy (11), Swanson (10) and Callin Rezin (10).

Monmouth led 92-85 with 1:40 remaining following a free throw by Swanson before closing the game on a modest 6-2 spurt.

It definitely appears the players at NCC are beginning to understand this style of play, and I wish them the best of luck the rest of the way. That begins Tuesday at Central College, with tip scheduled for 8 p.m.

The Tigers took their first loss of coach Lauren Stamatis' inaugural season, falling behind early and never really catchup up as Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference rival Roosevelt ran away from ONU 112-96 on Saturday. Ashley Wilson had 17 points for the Tigers (4-1 overall and CCAC) and Miranda Geever and Taylor Haymes each added 14.

They did manage to get within seven midway through the second half on a steal and subsequent 3-pointer by Jessica Gerig before Roosevelt (7-1, 5-1) pulled away again.

Olivet Nazarene returns home Wednesday to host Trinity Christian College, with game time at McHie Arena set for 5:30 p.m. EST. Go get 'em!


The Prairie Fire had a tough week at home, averaging only 55.5 points in two losses. The first came Wednesday, when Marissa Pezzopane had 18 points and 13 rebounds to lead Augustana past Knox 83-56.

Shots just weren't falling for coach Emily Cline's team. The Prairie Fire were 17-for-86 (20 percent) overall and 6-for-44 (14 percent) on 3-pointers. Jodi Marver led the way with 17 points and Becky Duffy added 11. Kristin McDonald finished with 10 points.

On Saturday, Knox opened play in the Midwest Conference with a 79-55 loss to Lake Forest. Alycia Webster was the only player in double figures with with 12 points.

The Prairie Fire host Grinnell on Wednesday, as I've already mentioned, so fans will be treated to a double dose of The System. As much as I love Grinnell, I've got to go with the Knox women's team in this one. I wish Coach Cline and her team the best of luck.


Coach Andy Hoaglin's squad is fighting some inconsistency early, and I have no doubt that the Jets eventually will put together a run. They lost 106-90 on Wednesday to drop to 2-3 on the season.

No stats available for this one. Jackson CC returns to action Monday at home against Calvin College, and I hope this begins its run.


A huge shoutout to senior guard Jessica Lieber, who reached 1,000 career points in the Silver Streaks' 77-40 victory over Freeport on Saturday night in the Galesburg Thanksgiving Tournament. Lieber had five 3-pointers and scored 22 points, and Sharron Diggins added 19.

The Streaks (5-1) finished with 13 3s in the game.

Galesburg hosts Quincy on Thursday night to continue its season-opening, nine-game homestand. I'm rooting for the Streaks and coach Evan Massey.

After opening with two victories, the Cardinals lost to Marist 84-82 on Wednesday night, and coach Mike Curta reported that his team fouled way too much. Marist finished 36-for-50 at the line, just an insane amount of free throws in a 32-minute game.

Tyrone Terrell led Eisenhower with 23 points, Desmond Rembert added 13 and B.J. Bronaugh finished with 10. The Cardinals were 31-for-90 from the field and 11-for-54 on 3s, yet still only lost by two. Wow, got to love The System.

On Friday, Eisenhower dropped another close one, losing to Shepard 92-90. No official stats for this one.

Assuming I read the schedule correctly, the Cardinals don't play again until Friday, traveling to T.F. South. If they can get those foul problems under control, I think Coach Curta and his team could do some damage this season.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Catching up with the top scorer in basketball history, Jack Taylor

Setting records is nothing new for the folks at Grinnell College. No one knows this any better than Dave Arseneault.

A former point guard at the school, he set the all-division NCAA record with 34 assists in 2007 while playing for his father, longtime coach David Arseneault. We all know Coach A as the creator of The System, an innovative style of basketball that almost always leads to huge numbers for both teams, the type of eye-popping statistics that create fans and critics alike.

The past few days has seen plenty of both, thanks to Jack Taylor. By now, sports fans everywhere have heard of the sophomore guard for the Pioneers, the one who scored 138 points Tuesday night against Faith Baptist. That total seems just as unbelievable today as it did then.

"After the game, it didn't seem real," Taylor told me Friday night over the phone. He and Coach Dave gave me a call following practice.

It was real, all right. Thanks mostly to social media such as Twitter and Facebook, Taylor's exploits quickly spread around the country, with NBA stars LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Kobe Bryant all talking about the effort. Taylor was up early the morning after for appearances on "The Today Show" and "Good Morning America," and capped the day with an interview on "Jimmy Kimmel Live," where the host asked Taylor if he planned to break Wilt Chamberlain's "other" record. You know, the one involving 20,000 women.

"It was hilarious, it was hard to answer the questions because I was laughing so much," Taylor said. And for the record, he said he was a long way from approaching the Big Dipper's success with the opposite sex.

The fun hasn't stopped yet. ESPN planned to have a crew at practice Saturday that will stay in town to catch part of Grinnell's game the next day against William Penn University. 

"It's been exhausting," Taylor said. "I don't really know how the NBA players do it every day. I've been doing interviews non-stop, I'm kind of happy they're winding down."

As I said, everything hasn't been rosy. The critics have been numerous, including some from the very outlet that plans to visit the Grinnell campus this weekend. Of course, the naysayers almost are as familiar to the basketball program as the offensive records it creates.

Coach Dave has seen this over the years, most of it directed at his father. He's in the unique position now of answering some of it as someone who helped Taylor set his record.

"There's a saying that any publicity is good publicity," Coach Dave said. "The fact that so many people are talking about our school, it's just really incredible. It is amazing what we were able to do in the span of a few hours that has brought such ridiculous attention."

And that includes those who dismiss it completely.

"Most of those people are pretty uninformed," Coach Dave said. "A lot of them think they know what we do, and they really don't have any clue."

Even as Taylor was setting the record, Coach Dave wasn't exactly sure how it would play out. He thought about taking him out at some point after the point total exceeded 100, and the game was played at such a pace that it was to keep track of exactly where Taylor was.

Finally, the exit strategy became clear. With 3:40 remaining in the game, Taylor swished a 3-pointer for to get to 121 points. He made another the next possession, and then another and another and another and another, all without play stopping.

It was six 3s in the span of of about 2 minutes. When he was fouled and made two free throws, that gave him 138 points, and it was time to come out.

"I think that was the highlight of the game," Taylor said. "I was able to thank my coaches and thank my teammates, and the fans gave me a standing ovation. It felt really nice."

The moment was so special that Coach Dave has watched it about 100 times on tape.

"With each successful 3, the crowd was going a little more bonkers," he said. "When he it that last one, guys on the team are running around the bench. There was a group of fans, I've watched this every time, literally rolling on the bleachers and tackling each other. I'm just happy I left him the game, everything played out perfectly."

Now, the question is what does Taylor -- and Grinnell -- do for an encore. After all, he is only three games into his career at the school after transferring from the University of Wisconsin-Lacrosse. 

"I don't know what's going to happen," Taylor said. "I'm sure the other teams are going to start throwing double teams at me after this. I think scoring is going to be a lot more difficult."

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Grinnell's Jack Taylor shatters scoring record, pundits criticize the effort

There really is no way to answer criticism, particularly on something as unconventional as The System. Or perhaps it is not even The System, just basketball (or sports in general), that opens itself up to contrarians. A few weeks ago, Alabama football coach Nick Saban questioned the no-huddle, fast-paced offense so many schools employ these days, including this little salvo: "Is this what we want football to be?"

I thought of this today while listening to my favorite afternoon sports talk show, "SVP and Russillo" on ESPN Radio. Scott Van Pelt was absent, so Ryen Russillo was flying solo, and I caught a segment when he was dicussing the effort Tuesday night from Grinnell's Jack Taylor. By now, any reader of this blog knows of the 138 points Taylor scored against Faith Baptist in a 179-104 victory for the Pioneers. The outburst broke every known collegiate scoring record, which we'll get to a bit later.

Let's get back to my boy Ryen Russillo. He told the audience he wasn't pleased with how Grinnell coach David Arseneault (and indirectly, his assistant, son Dave Arseneault) set up the game plan for this matchup. Russillo spoke of his distaste for the pace of play, the way the Pioneers gave up layups, even the way they sent mass substitutions into the game every 45 seconds or so.

Hmm, anyone notice what he (and I) did there? He basically is railing against The System, which is no big deal, in and of itself. Most of us are accustomed to that, and this style of play, while beautiful, breathtaking and exhilarating to me, just isn't for everybody. I face that every day with my friends and other hoops aficionados.

Russillo's mistake -- the same one made by many who expressed unhappiness with how it all played out -- is he failed to investigate Grinnell's background. All the things that annoyed him in this game have nothing to do with Jack Taylor or 138 points. The Pioneers play this way every game.

Case in point: he theorized that Coach A sent all these subs in to foul the players for Faith Baptist, so Grinnell could get the ball back. Well, you and I know that the subs come in that way each and every game, and one of the focuses of The System is to avoid fouls. That way, you create more possessions and take advantage when the opponent's players begin to get tired.

By the way, Faith Baptist finished 4-for-8 from the free throw line for the game, and Grinnell finished with 14 total fouls.

The layups are nothing new, either. Last season, when the Pioneers were 18-5, opponents shot a combined 58 percent from the field, so field goal percentage defense isn't something that is important to the success this style.

Now, I am in no way saying Taylor's magical game came without some orchestration. He was on the court for 36 minutes, or about 20 more than he ordinarily would play. Essentially, instead of subbing five-for-five, the Coaches Arseneault went four-for-four, leaving Taylor with each shift, or group, in System vernacular. And because he was the "preferred shooter" for each group -- another System term -- he got all the shots.

Several times over the years, Grinnell has set out to help one of its players be statistically significant in a single game. On Dec. 8, 2007, Dave Arseneault, then the starting point guard for his dad, set the NCAA all-division record with 34 assists against North Central University. He relied on the same methods as Taylor: namely he played at the front of the full-court pressure (leaving him on the offensive end of the court for much of the game), he stayed in with each group (he played 38 minutes) and he enjoyed assistance from his teammates (John Grotberg had 49 points).

That was one of the most impressive things about Taylor's game. Each player on Grinnell's roster dug in to help him, including Griffin Lentsch. Surely you remember him, right? He scored an NCAA Division III record 89 points in a game last season and eventually led the Pioneers in scoring for the year. He spent this whole game setting screens for Taylor and finished with seven points on three shots.

When it was over, and the news trickled out via Twitter and other avenues of social media, Taylor's teammates did something else: they searched out people who could help spread the word, including some of the very pundits who took to the airwaves in an attempt to discredit this record.

Again, nothing wrong with that. I'm sure it's simply white noise to the folks at Grinnell, particularly Coach A, since he's done this so much over the years. When I visited Grinnell and the cornfields of Iowa in 2009, I asked him about singling out one player in this manner, I found his answer -- as it pertained to his son's assist record and others -- to be fascinating.

"He took some heat on that, from some people. What those people fail to understand is that it set David off on a stretch of play where he played better than he can for about 10 straight games. People don't understand that, statistically, if you can get people to reach for the stars, and then achieve it, they can start being better than they are.

"Our level of play gets better when our best players are statistically significant. You can't explain that to people. Even though it was somewhat manufactured, the reality is that every time we've done that for somebody, it's been a long-term positive for the group."

David Arseneault

Here's hoping it works out that way for this year's team.

As for this game, not much I can add to what already has been written and spoken around the country. Taylor had 58 points at halftime and kept going after the break, breaking Lentsch's mark on a 3-pointer with 11:14 left in the game.

Taylor reached 100 points on a nifty backdoor cut with about 9 minutes remaining, then swished a 3 about 4 minutes later to break Bevo Francis' NCAA record of 113 points. He scored his final points on two free throws with 1:37 on the clock, then exited the game for good a few seconds later to a raucous reception at Darby Gym.

Grinnell plays again Sunday, hosting William Penn University at 5 p.m. EST. This one should be very interesting, as well, even if no one reaches triple digits by himself. The Statesman, an NAIA school, is 9-0 and averaging 99 points, so they likely will run with the Pioneers. Should be a good one.

Best of luck to Grinnell.

And, heck, while I'm at it, I guess I ought to update our other teams who have played this week.


After a 47-point loss on the road last Saturday at California (Pa.), this group of Pioneers returned home to open West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference play against Wheeling Jesuit. Thanks partly to Ginny Mills, they averted a losing streak.

Mills made six 3-pointers and scored 22 points (in 17 minutes of run) to lead six players in double figures as Glenville State rolled past the Cardinals 113-86 Tuesday night. Kenyona Simmons added 17 points, Ashleigh Fossett had 14, Tiffani Huffman got 13, DeShawna Curry finished with 12 and Jessica Parsons (no relation) chipped in with 10.

A great effort for coach Bunky Harkleroad and his team; the Pioneers (3-1, 1-0 WVIAC) finished with 103 shots and forced 25 turnovers in the victory. Breanna Butler paced Wheeling Jesuit (1-2, 0-1) with 21 points.

Glenville State has a bit of a break before playing next, when it travels to play conference foe Bluefield State next Thursday. If all goes well, I plan to be in attendance, the first time in two years I've seen the Pioneers.

Hope to see them them then.


Coach Mike Curta and the Cardinals are playing in the Richards HS Thanksgiving Tournament, and they opened with a pair of victories. On Monday, in their season opener, they beat Fenger HS 104-84, thanks in part to an 11-point shift from one of their preferred shooters.

So far, this player hasn't been identified by Coach Curta (I'm kidding, I'm sure he'd be glad to, I just know he's busy so I haven't asked). He made a 3-pointer before stealing the inbound pass and scoring again before making two more 3s on consecutive possessions. Pretty sweetk.

Eisenhower beat Peoria 66-47 on Tuesday and plays Marist tonight. Go Cardinals.


Jessica Lieber had 10 of her 23 points in the fourth quarter to help the Silver Streaks pull away to beat Western Big 6 rival Moline 71-52 Tuesday night.

Coach Evan Massey's team made 13 3-pointers -- Lieber had five of them -- for the game. Sharron Diggins added 14 points for Galesburg, which continues play in its Thanksgiving Tournament on Saturday against Freeport. The start is scheduled for 7 p.m. EST, and I wish the Streaks all the best.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Grinnell opens season with pair of victories

I made a decision, and I hope it was OK I didn't consult anyone who actually follows this blog. (Anyone? Anyone? Bueller? Bueller?)

In an attempt to keep up with every team I enjoy following, and to relieve the pressure of staying on top of it daily, I plan to post a weekly update each Sunday. That way, with most everyone playing during the week or on Saturday, I can get us caught up on those squads employing the most wonderful style of basketball known the world over. High school play began this week, too, so that will give us more fun-filled action to follow.

Sound good? Great, glad you agree.


The original System team, coached now by a combination of the creator of this strategy, David Arseneault, and his son, Dave Arseneault (not an official Jr., by the way), returns most of its top players from a season ago. Optimism is very high out in the cornfields of Iowa, I can tell you that.

If the first weekend is an indication, it is well-warranted.

The Pioneers traveled to in-state rival Wartburg College for the  four-team Buzz Levick tournament, joined by Rockford College and Crown College. Given the success Grinnell has had and its unique style, finding non-conference games can be difficult, so a tournament just up the road is a great way to begin another year.

The Rockford Regents were the opponent in the opener, and Griffin Lentsch's 23 points led six players in double figures as the Pioneers pulled away for a 130-101 victory. Patrick Maher and transfer Jack Taylor each had 19 points, Luke Yeager added 18, Jesse Ney scored 12 and Aaron Levin finished with 10 for Grinnell, which led by 38 points with about 3 minutes left.

In the championship game, the Pioneers faced the Crown Storm, and even though the shots didn't fall, Grinnell still won going away. How off was the shooting? Well, midway through the first half, the Pioneers where 6-for-27, and only a seemingly continuous parade to the free throw line kept them within striking distance.

Those us accustomed to Coach A's teams always scoring at least 100 points in a game would be surprised to know that Grinnell had only 25 with slightly more than 7 minutes left in the first half. A great run to end the opening 20 minutes -- the Storm led 42-34 with 3:14 remaining -- got the Pioneers back on track.

They finished the half on an 18-3 spurt to pull ahead for good, and they held on to win 111-100. Taylor led the way with 28 points and Lentsch had 21 for Grinnell despite combining to make only 4-of-28 shots from behind the 3-point line. Taylor was 3-for-19, but connected on all 13 shots at the line and added four steals and four assists.

Of course, the defense was a constant. The Storm finished with 42 turnovers, including 24 steals by Grinnell.

Levin had 14 points and Maher had 12 for the Pioneers, who play their home opener Tuesday against Faith Baptist, then host William Penn next Sunday. Best of luck to Coach A and Coach a, if you get my drift.


The Tigers, now coached by Lauren Stamatis, went 3-0 during the week to remain unbeaten in her first season as a head coach.

In the initial game of the week, ONU traveled to longtime Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference foe Saint Xavier on Tuesday. Imagine Duke and North Carolina renewing its bitter rivalry in the first full week of the schedule. Odd, right?

No matter, the Tigers pulled away from a tight game at the half to win 100-88, using Miranda Geever's 20 points to beat the Cougars for the third consecutive time. Taylor Haymes had 16 points and Ashley Wilson added 15 points and 10 rebounds for ONU.

The middle game was the home opener, also in the CCAC, with Holy Cross College rolling into McHie Arena. This one definitely was a tale of two halves: the Tigers dominated to take a 24-point advantage at the break, then simply stopped making shots. Or at least, stopped making them quite as often.

By the time it was over, ONU held on for a not-as-close-as-the-score-would-indicate 105-95 victory. Liz Bart led the way with 17 points and Wilson had 16.

How different was each side of halftime? The Tigers were 22-for-47 before the break, including 14-of-32 from the arc, and were dominating. Yet they were only 12-for-50 (24 percent) afterward and missed 23 of their 27 shots from beyond the 3-point line. For those not mathematically inclined, such as me, that is 15 percent. Or, 14.8 percent. I guess I'm mathematically inclined enough to round up.

Still, it is a W.

Finally, ONU closed out its perfect week with a 94-90 victory on the road against Indiana University Bend, another CCAC contest. Wilson led the way this time with 17 points and Geever added 16. The Tigers again struggled after halftime, making only 1-of-21 on 3-pointers and shooting 25 percent overall.

The defense was enough to keep them on top, since the Titans finished with 38 turnovers.

The pace slows down for Coach Stamatis this week, with a lone game coming Saturday at Roosevelt University. As always, I'll be rooting for them.


When a coach decides to run The System, he or she understands the extremes that come with it. Have a particularly uneven performance, and it is very common to get blown out. It happens to everyone, at any level, playing any style, it just appears much worse when you go at it this way.

Case in point: coach Bunky Harkleroad's team went on the road against California (Pa.) on Saturday and lost 102-55. Yes, at first glance, I thought that score was a misprint, as well, but that's what it was.

Not much to say about this one. The Pioneers (2-1) shot 20 percent from the field, shot 23 percent on 3s and turned it over 26 times. The Vulcans only had 16 turnovers.

Kenyona Simmons led Glenville State with nine points -- yep, no one in double figures -- and Ginny Mills and Ashleigh Fossett scored eight apiece.

Coach Harkleroad and his team get a chance to remove some of the sting from this one in a hurry, opening play in the West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference on Tuesday night by hosting Wheeling Jesuit. I'll be cheering for the Pioneers.


This is the program that has former Olivet Nazarene coach Doug Porter leading it into its first season of The System. With Coach Porter assisting head coach Michelle Roof, the Cardinals hosted a four-team tournament to open their schedule, the Chicago Marriott Naperville Tip-Off Tournament.

In the opener Friday night against Olivet (no, not Nazarene, just plain ol' Olivet), NCC led by one with about 6 minutes remaining in the first half before Olivet went on a 21-7 run to take a 13-point edge into the break.

That margin grew to 30 midway through the final 20 minutes before the Cardinals scrapped away to make the final score respectable at 96-84. Kimberly Wilson had 20 points (and made four 3-pointers), and Emily Murphy and Jenny Swanson each added 13 for NCC.

The Cardinals got their first victory of the season in the consolation game, using 10 points from Murphy to hold off Alma College 70-67. Not a clinic for The System, but a nice step forward for a team new to this style.

NCC returns to action Wednesday night, hosting Monmouth College, and I wish Coach Roof, Coach Porter and the entire team the best of luck.

Oh, and if you have extra time after reading this informative blog, take a gander at one hosted by Coach Porter, which chronicles the first season installing The System. It's great.


Another interesting fact about this particular style of play is that often, a player for the opposing team will put up some monster stats. Case in point Thursday in the opener for Knox College, a second-year System team coached by Emily Cline.

In a 112-83 loss to Eureka College, Kelsey Shoemake (no, it's not Shoemaker, I double-checked) finished with 39 points and 17 rebounds for the winning side. Not bad, right?

Alycia Webster led the Prairie Fire with 17 points, Becky Duffy added 13 and Jodi Marver finished with 11. Jessica Howard, a transfer from Monmouth College who played for coach Evan Massey's System team at Galesburg (Ill.) HS, scored nine points in her Knox debut.

This one was much closer than the score would indicate. With about 8 minutes left, Eureka led only 78-72 following two free throws from Duffy. Obviously, it got away from Knox a bit down the stretch.

I caught most of the first half of this game on the Internet and came away impressed with the effort of the Prairie Fire. Also, Coach Cline is very energetic on the sidelines and often encourages her players very passionately. I look forward to watching the progress of this team the rest of the season.

Knox continues a homestand to open the season, hosting Augustana on Wednesday before opening Midwest Conference play against Lake Forest on Sunday. Best of luck to the Prairie Fire.


The Jets, coached by Andy Hoaglin, got back on the winning track Friday night by blowing out the JV team from Calvin College 107-78. I was unable to come up with any stats for this one; Jackson CC improves to 2-2 this season, following a 107-59 loss to the JV team from Davenport University last Monday.

The schedule has the Jets hosting Mott on Wednesday. I hope Coach Hoaglin and his team keep it going.


The Silver Streaks, led by one of the top coaches in Illinois high school history in Evan Massey, opened their season in their Thanksgiving tourney, with four games in five days to get it started. That is taxing for any team, but I would imagine particularly so for a System team.

Galesburg opened with a 70-64 victory over Illini West on Tuesday, as Jessica Lieber scored 19 points, then came back two nights later to beat East Peoria 64-46, with Lieber finishing with 24 points and seven rebounds. On Friday, the Streaks got on top of Metamora 70-40 with Lieber (anyone else sensing a theme?) scoring 14 points.

Others getting into the act in this one included Sharron Diggins (13 points) and Dani Teel (10).

In the final game of the week, Galesburg had a tough against Springfield, one of the top Class 3A teams in the state over the past few seasons that has moved up to Class 4A.

Springfield jumped out to a 12-0 lead before the Streaks whittled the margin down to 11 (49-38) at the break. A 3 from Diggins to open the third quarter made it an eight-point game, but that was as close as Galesburg would come. A 15-1 run pushed the edge to 22, and the final was 86-62.

Diggins led the way with 12 points, while Lieber, Teel and Lexi Daniels each had nine. Lieber is inching toward 1,000 points in her career, an outstanding achievement; the 5-foot-3 senior has has 960 points now.

Speaking of milestones, Coach Massey now is 767-273 in his career, all at Galesburg. Most impressive.

The Streaks (3-1) open Western Big 6 play Tuesday by hosting Moline, which always makes for a great game. Is it redundant to mention who I hope wins? Go Streaks!


No games yet for coach Mike Curta and the Cardinals, but he was kind enough to send a little update on how preparations are going for this season. They open their schedule with three games in three days in a Thanksgiving tournament at Richards HS, beginning Monday.

Here is a note from Coach Curta about the 2011-12 season:

"We finished the year at 10-19. Lost in the first round of the state tournament. We had a lot of off-court issues that negatively affected us on the court. We brought three players up from our frosh/sophomore team in February just to complete the season with 12 players able to play ... down from the 17 we started the season with. Looking forward to this year, however. Year 3 with The System and we are more comfortable as players and as coaches. We had a good summer and a good preseason, so I am optimistic. I think that because have more solid kids who understand and appreciate their roles, we have a much better chance at success."

Incidentally, I discovered last week that Nick Curta, coach Curta's son and a senior on the team this season, plans to play hoops at Grinnell in the future. How great is that? Good for the Curta family, and good for Grinnell.

I wish Nick and his teammates (and their coach) all the luck in the world this season, beginning this week.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Glenville State opens with a pair of impressive victories

The NCAA Division II women's team at Glenville State hosted a tournament this weekend too begin its schedule, with the opener Friday night against Virginia Union and a Saturday matchup with No. 6 Edinboro. Tough tests.

In the first one, the Pioneers rallied from miserable shooting first half to win going away, 90-83. Ginny Mills made five 3-pointers on her way to 23 points and Kenyell Goodson connected on five 3s to finish with 20 points for Glenville State.

The comeback came mostly from making shots, which didn't really happen often for the Pioneers in the opening 20 minutes. At the break, they were 11-for-50 overall and 5-for-29 from beyond the arc, and the Panthers pulled out to a 41-35 advantage.

As I was following with live stats, the numbers really seemed to be working in Glenville State's favor with the pace. I figured once the fall started going through the hoop, the game eventually would turn in favor of coach Bunky Harkleroad's squad.

And that's just what happened.

Kenyona Simmons added 15 points and 11 rebounds for the Pioneers.

Game 2 figured to be a little more difficult. Edinboro finished 30-2 last season and reached the NCAA tournament for the second consecutive season, and the first D-II poll had the Fighting Scots ranked sixth.

It really appeared difficult when Glenville State missed its first 14 shots from the field. Yep, that's correct, all 14 failed to drop through the hoop. Overcoming that would be difficult in the best of circumstances, and even more so with playing such a good opponent.

No worries, however. A 16-3 run pushed the Pioneers to a 20-9 lead midway through the first half, and the margin grew from there. After those 14 shots failed to go in, Glenville State made 17 of its final 32 shots of the opening 20 minutes, and finished 10-for-20 on 3-pointers. The result was a 56-31 lead for the home team.

Pretty incredible recovery. The Scots never got within double digits, and the Pioneers cruised to a wonderful, signature victory by the score of 101-82.

Mills again led the way, pouring in 24 points and making six more 3s, giving her 11 in two games. She added 12 boards. Simmons also had 24 points and Goodson added 14 (and made four 3-pointers).

Glenville State has a week off before traveling to California (Pa). next Saturday, with the game starting at 2 p.m. I wish Coach Harkleroad and his team all the best.


Talk about your tough assignments. For the second game of the season, and the second game under first-year coach Lauren Stamatis, Olivet Nazarene had to travel to its top rival in the Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference: the Saint Xavier Cougars.

The Cougars were ranked sixth in the preseason NAIA poll (Olivet Nazarene was 13th) and primed to exact a little payback after the Tigers swept the season series a year ago.

No such luck. A 20-6 run to start the second half gave ONU a 73-57 lead, and the margin ballooned as high as 23 as the Tigers held on to win 100-88. Miranda Geever led the way (again) with 20 points while continuing the pile up the stats: nine rebounds, three assists and three steals, all in 21 minutes of run.

Taylor Haymes had 16 points and Ashley Wilson finished with 15 points and 10 rebounds. A great result for Coach Stamatis and the entire team.

ONU has its home opener Wednesday when CCAC opponent Holy Cross visits McHie Arena, with the start scheduled for 6:30 p.m. EST. Best of luck to the Tigers.


The Jets lost a tough one Saturday to Henry Ford Community 95-85 in the Michigan Community College Athletic Association. No other details were available.

Coach Andy Hoaglin and Jackson CC gets back at it Monday on the road at the Davenport University JV team. I am rooting for them.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

New era at Olivet Nazarene opens with a victory

As I mentioned, System veteran (and System book author) Doug Porter retired from his job as coach of the NAIA women's team at Olivet Nazarene following last season. He quickly came out of retirement to help friend (and fellow coach) Michelle Roof install the most wonderful style of basketball the world ever has seen at North Central College.

So how would Olivet Nazarene fare in its first game without the man who made the program a perennial national contender? Quite well, thank you.

Liz Bart made seven 3-pointers on her way to 23 points and Miranda Geever made a jumper in the final seconds to help the Tigers hold on for a 111-106 victory over Trinity International University on Wednesday night in the Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference opener for both teams.

ONU led 90-71 with 8:37 left after a three-point play (not a 3-pointer!) by Tammy Ellis before Trinity International rallied. The margin was down to three before Geever converted her shot with 12 seconds remaining, and after Trinity International again got within three, Geever converted a pair of free throws to close out the scoring.

I guess we should mention The Formula stats, which for you newbies might seem odd. This is the way System teams track success. Here are the Tigers' number:

- Attempted 99 shots
- Attempted 61 3-pointers
- Rebounded 41 percent of their own misses
- Forced 47 turnovers (yowza!)
- Attempted 21 more shots than Trinity International

Geever filled up the stat sheet with 21 points, six steals, four assists and four rebounds, all in 18 minutes of run. Malory Adam added 16 points and made four 3s and Ashley Wilson scored 13 for ONU.

Great start for new coach Lauren Stamatis, who served as an assistant for Coach Porter for five years before taking over the program. She doesn't have much time to savor the victory, however, with a trip to longtime rival St. Xavier on Saturday. Tip is 2 p.m. EST, and we'll be watching. Or, at least, I will. I don't know what you'll be doing.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Jackson CC wins opener going away

Ahhh, yes, it's that time again. An actual report from an actual game!

The initial game from this season from a team I regularly follow (for now) comes from the women's squad at Jackson (Mich.) Community College, where the Jets traveled all the way to South Bend, Ind., to play the junior varsity team from Indiana Tech on Tuesday night.

Jackson CC, coached by Andy Hoaglin pulled away in the second half to win 98-71, a great start to the season. The score was tied at 40 at the break, so it's easy to see how well the Jets played in the final 20 minutes. Not bad for a team with 16 freshmen!

Unfortunately, no stats are available from this one, but Coach Hoaglin was kind enough to post an update on the Yahoo! message board for The System. Here is part of his message:

"I see the team learning each time they're on the floor and they're making progress in understanding the dynamics of System basketball.  It's a hard thing for freshman who come out of traditional programs, but they're exorcising some of those traditional demons and becoming more System-like.

We only had two players in double figures, but I believe 17 players scored in the contest.  We'll continue coaching transition after a missed or a live turnover, and get them to be more efficient.  We're still very much in the 'rushing' stage after a turnover.  This will come with more and more experience in 5-5 practice and game situations.

Our enthusiasm was good and our energy was consistent, especially for opening up on the road 2 hours away."
 Congrats to Jackson CC and Coach Hoaglin, and we'll stay on top of their schedule the rest of the way. The Jets host Henry Ford Community College on Saturday in the Michigan Community College Athletic Association. Best of luck to them.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Why I Love The System

I figured the best way to ease back into this blog would be to reacquaint everyone with the basics of The System, the best, most entertaining style of basketball I've ever seen. I also thought I would share the story of how I come to discover the wonderful way to play a game I've always loved. Sounds fun, right?

First of all, I always have been an offense-kind of fan. That is to say I like to see high-scoring games in whatever sport I happen to be watching: football, baseball, hockey or, of course, hoops. So it should come as no surprise that I was drawn to the Paul Westhead-coached teams at Loyola Marymount teams from back in the day.

What really is surprising that I how I remember discovering this. You would think I would have caught on to what Coach Westhead was doing when he led his Lions against Dean Smith and the North Carolina Tar Heels in the second round of the 1988 NCAA tournament. LMU lost that matchup 123-97, a couple of days after edging Wyoming 119-105, and a new phenomenon was born. Maybe I did notice at the time, I just somehow banished it from my memory.

Yet my first memory of watching Coach Westhead's team came Dec. 17, 1988 -- a full nine months later -- when the Lions traveled to play coach Billy Tubbs and the Oklahoma Sooners. It would be the first of many national TV appearances for Bo Kimble, Hank Gathers, Jeff Fryer and the rest of the run-and-gun LMU fellas, a 136-103 loss. I was mesmerized. The full-court pressure, the up-tempo pace of the game, the high scoring, everything seemed perfectly perfect to me. I truly thought, "This is my basketball Nirvana."

And so I, much as most of the country did, followed the Lions through the next couple of seasons. There were many more tremendous outings on TV, including a rematch with Oklahoma about a year later on LMU's home court, Gersten Pavilion. The Sooners won again 136-121, and LSU edged the Lions a couple of months later in overtime 148-141, but the wins and losses didn't matter to me. I was forever hooked on this type of game.

I cried when Hank Gathers collapsed and died in the final of the West Coast Conference tournament, and I watched with goosebumps as his teammates played their way to the Elite Eight of the 1990 NCAA tournament before losing to eventual national champ UNLV.

The next year, with Kimble and Fryer now graduated and Coach Westhead in the NBA with the Denver Nuggets, I stuck with LMU and new coach Jay Hillock. That team didn't have the name players, and except for a 186-140 victory over U.S. International, didn't score quite as much as the previous teams, but still I watched.

Eventually, Coach Hillock was fired, and no one stepped into his place to keep the game going at a fast pace. Even Coach Westhead wore out his welcome with the Nuggets. I thought I never again would feel the tingle of excitement I felt while watching those Loyola Marymount teams.

Fast forward to Dec. 10, 2002, when I was a Sports Writer with The Associated Press in Atlanta. I was scrolling through "the wire," seeing all the stories that would be the next day's headlines, when a story out of Iowa caught my attention. Drake was playing a game the following day against NCAA Division III Grinnell College, a school that didn't mean anything to me at the time. The yarn by Des Moines, Iowa, writer Chuck Shoffner documented Grinnell's unique style of basketball, and it sounded just as I remembered LMU.

Drake won that game 162-110, with its Division I talent just a little too much for Grinnell. Yet with the wonder of the Internet, I had a new team to follow, and new amazing statistics to follow. Along the way I discovered the University of the Redlands, another D-III team from California which also used this style.

At the time, I was a little protective of Grinnell and was jealous when the 2004-05 Redlands squad set the all-division record by averaging 132.4 points. I later came to find out that all this was done using the exact method Grinnell used, so that made it a little easier to swallow.

Now, all these years later, there are a handful of college teams and even more high school ones employing the up-tempo style I came to know as The System, which essentially took what Coach Westhead was doing to different level. For those newbies out there, here is how it works:

- All-out, trapping defensive pressure all over the court, all the time.

- Five-for-five substitutions every 35-45 seconds to ease fatigue.

- Constant pursuit for offensive rebounds, the lifeblood of The System.

- Shoot half your shots from beyond the 3-point line.

- Never, ever stop!

Through e-mail, I introduced myself to Grinnell coach David Arseneault, now-retired Redlands coach Gary Smith and a host of other coaches I met through a Yahoo! message board devoted to those daring (crazy?) enough to go to The System. I traveled to Grinnell to watch two games in December 2009, and then followed that up with a trip to Bluefield, W.Va., about a year later to watch see the NCAA Division II women's team at Glenville State, where coach Bunky Harkleroad brought The System.

My enjoyment from this way of playing only has grown, and here are a few reasons The System is so perfect to me:

- Everyone gets a chance to play. Grinnell often plays up to 20 players a game, and the high schools regularly use 15 or more. As a somewhat-frustrated high school player who hardly got any run, I can appreciate this.

- The focus stays on you, not your opponent. If a System team played Princeton, you wouldn't see any back cuts, any back-door layups or any of the other stuff that draws some people to the offense made famous by former Princeton coach Pete Carril.

- The players have the luxury of making mistakes. Too often I see a player throw an errant pass and immediately get removed from the game. Or I see a coach who cautions his team to slow the pace and run a set play, one that the other team undoubtedly has prepared for, then work the shot clock (in college) down to the waning seconds before hoisting up a contest long-range jumper.

The best way I can describe The System to someone who never has seen it is to compare it to a team trailing by 10 points with 2 minutes remaining in a game. The losing team does everything it can to gain possession and doesn't necessarily worry if the other team gets a layup. It's all about creating possessions, which is what The System is built upon.

I don't update the blog as often as I should (not that anyone misses it, but I feel as if I'm letting down the coaches and players I care so much about), but my mind never strays too far from these teams and their outside-the-box strategy. I figured it was time for everyone to rediscover them with an update on the 2011-12 season, starting with the colleges I regularly follow. 


With Coach David Arseneault on sabbatical to work on his latest book about his creation, he turned over the team to his son and former point guard, Dave. It proved to be a wise decision.

The Pioneers opened with 11 consecutive victories, then after the first loss to eventual Midwest Conference tournament champ Carroll, won five more games to run their record to 16-1 (12-1 MWC). Three losses in the final five games dropped Grinnell to the No. 2 seed for the conference tournament, where a 13-for-62 performance from the 3-point line (21 percent) led to a loss to third-seeded St. Norbert.

The Pioneers finished 18-5, another stellar mark, and put up big numbers to lead all NCAA divisions in scoring (again) with 110.9 points per contest. Guard Griffin Lentsch was named to the all-MWC first-team and was chosen to play on a group of D-III all-stars who traveled to Europe to play five exhibition games over the summer.

Oh, I almost forgot. He also dropped 89 points on Principia in the first game of the season, a Division III record. 


The Tigers, coached by Doug Porter, won 16 consecutive games at one point en route to a perfect 10-0 mark in the Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference before falling to Robert Morris in the semifinals of the conference tournament.

ONU then lost in the opening round of the NAIA national tournament to Shorter University 84-83, a heartbreaking end to what was an incredible season. The Tigers finished 27-5, their second consecutive season with 27 victories, and led all collegiate divisions by averaging 103.5 points. That's the good news.

The less-than-good news, at least for us ONU fans, is that Coach Porter retired following the season and turned over his program to assistant Lauren Stamatis. Don't fret, however, since he decided to help a friend install The System at North Central College, just up the road from Olivet Nazarene.

With Coach Stamatis sticking with The System, that gives us another team to track. Win-win, right?


Coach Harkleroad's season ended with disappointment, too, with a 97-76 loss to West Virginia Wesleyan in the final of the West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference tournament final. Still, it shouldn't have ended there.

The Pioneers, who were 23-7 and 18-4 in the WVIAC, somehow were snubbed on an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament despite sharing the regular season conference title. Glenville State led D-II with 94.3 points per game and led its conference with a point differential of 13.4.


The Jets, coached by Andy Hoaglin, finished 23-7 and 12-4 in the Michigan Community College Athletic Association, winning one game in the National Junior College Athletic Association district tournament before falling to eventual national runner-up Lake Michigan 101-82.

The Jets had won 98-94 at Lake Michigan earlier in the season. Jackson CC averaged more than 100 points again, leading all junior college divisions.


We finish up with our three first-year teams that I followed, including this one from Grinnell's conference. The Prairie Fire finished 4-19, including 4-14 in the MWC, for coach Emily Cline. Along the way, Knox averaged 83.5 points.

Three of the victories came in a four-game span; this included the Prairie Fire's highest-point total of the season when they beat Beloit 114-100, a new school record for Knox. 


A first-year System team, the Aggies finished 5-21 overall and 2-10 in the Heartland Conference under coach Brad Vanden Boogaard, who since has moved on to Clarendon Junior College in Texas.

OPSU trailed only Glenville State in scoring for the season, averaging 88.9 points.

SHORELINE (WASH.) COMMUNITY COLLEGE NCJCAA MEN'S TEAM Another first-year System team which featured a familiar name: Bo Kimble stepped in to assist coach Greg Turcott early in the season and helped the Dolphins finish 19-12, including 10-6 in the Northwest Athletic Association of Community Colleges.

Shoreline averaged 101.6 points

So, let's total these records from the six main collegiate teams running The System: including those tough first seasons at Knox and OPSU, the overall record is 119-66, a .643 winning percentage. Not bad, right?

Check back in later in the week and I'll let everyone know how some of our favorite high school teams fared last season. Thanks.