Friday, November 28, 2014

What a start to the season for Eisenhower (Blue Island, Ill.) HS

We all know there is no better way to play basketball than running The System. That certainly is an absolute. The really, really fun part about watching teams which employ this style is when you come across one that absolutely gets it.

You know what I mean? There's really nothing you can point to statistically, even though forcing a large number of turnovers and shooting a bunch of 3s certainly helps. You can just tell in the players demeanor on and off the court, how the coach reacts to momentum swings and the commitment of the entire team to The System tenants -- run, shoot, rebound, press, sub.

Well, the boys' team at Eisenhower High School in Blue Island, Ill., clearly is a group who gets it. I had the pleasure of watching two of its three games this week via the Internet, and coach Mike Curta has the Cardinals rolling to open the season.

In three games, played back-to-back-to-back Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, Eisenhower went 3-0 and averaged 107 points. That's correct, in a 32-minute high school game, these young men AVERAGED 107 points, reaching triple digits in each contest.

Some other averages:

  • 40 forced turnovers per game
  • 24 steals per game
  • 96 shots
  • 52 3-pointers (a high of 73 in the opener against Chicago Christian)

Pretty amazing. In that game against Chicago Christian, the Cardinals won 103-95, and the final margin isn't a great indicator of how dominant they were. Eisenhower forced 44 turnovers, had 25 steals and finished 17-for-73 from beyond the arc. Sure, the shots weren't falling at a high rate, which is to be somewhat expected in the opening game, but the Cardinals kept plugging away and continued to get open looks. They were 32-for-111 for the game and 24-for-42 from the line.

In Game 2, the method was completely different, even if the result was more of the same. With opponent Perspectives High School of Technology pressuring the 3-point line, Eisenhower took the opportunity to drive to the hoop. And drive to the hoop. And drive to the hoop. In the fourth quarter alone, the Cardinals made nine layups, a very efficient offense that would be the envy of any team following the new basketball analytics (3-pointers and points in the paint, along with free throws, are similar to crack cocaine to the new-age hoops aficionados).

But I get ahead of myself. Perspectives came out with a great plan to be aggressive against the Eisenhower full-court press, using this to take a 37-27 lead after one quarter -- and, yes, quarters are only 8 minutes. Despite the early deficit and the amount of seemingly easy layups the opponent made, the Cardinals stuck to The System and continued running. Slowly, they cut into the Perspectives lead and finally took over in the fourth quarter.

As I mentioned, a huge part of this was Eisenhower finding open lanes to the basket. With the shooters covered along the perimeter, and the tired legs of the Perspectives defenders unable to keep up, the Cardinals' players continually drove to the paint. They shot only six 3s in the final quarter -- they made three to finish 16-for-37 from downtown -- to get those nine buckets close to the rim.

And when they weren't scoring, they got hacked, sending three players from Perspectives to the bench with five fouls. Eisenhower converted 13-of-18 from the line in the final 8 minutes and won the quarter 40-25. Those 40 points came on the 3s (nine points), the nine layups (18 points) and at the line (13 points), which was the efficiency I mentioned earlier. All that helped the Cardinals rally to a 115-103 victory, with Coach Curta's point-guard son, Vinny, turning in a scintillating performance.

The younger Curta had 36 points and four steals and made 16-of-19 shots at the charity stripe.

All told, Eisenhower was 36-for-83 from the field and 27-for-48 at the line while forcing 38 turnovers. Perspectives shot 62 percent for the game yet lost handily, another beautiful symptom of The System.

The third and final game wasn't quite as close as the others, as Eisenhower beat Richards 103-74, with five players reaching double figures. Khalil Williams led the way with 21 points. The Cardinals were 33-for-95 from the field (10-for-45 from the 3-point line) and again had a field day at the free throw line, converting 27-for-42. Richards had 37 turnovers.

Pretty impressive for Coach Curta and his team, and I can't wait for the rest of the season.