Friday, January 9, 2015

More System action coming up Saturday, with all our teams in action

Another big weekend is on the horizon for teams running The System, and I figured I would my best to stick to this New Year’s Resolution to keep everyone better informed. Hopefully, this will go better than that whole “diet and exercise” thing …

Grinnell – NCAA Division III Men

The Pioneers snapped a three-game losing streak in their only game of the week, beating Lawrence 126-116 in the friendly confines of Darby Gym last Saturday. Jack Taylor led the way with 21 points and freshman Braedon Bayer added 18 in the effort.

Others reaching double figures included Luke Yeager (16 points), Ikaika Phillip (15) and Tague Zachary (11). Grinnell (3-3 Midwest Conference, 5-6 overall) finished 30-for-64 on 3-pointers and forced 23 turnovers, helping overcome Lawrence’s 69.4 percent shooting from the field.

It doesn’t get any easier for coach David Arseneault and his team. Ripon travels to Darby Gym on Saturday, with the tip scheduled for 4 p.m. EST. The Red Hawks are 6-1 in the MWC, a game behind leader St. Norbert.

Oh, and the Pioneers now are averaging 118 points.

North Central College – NCAA Division III Women

The streak rolls on for coach Michelle Roof and the Cardinals, who stand 13-0 (2-0 in the College Conference of Illinois & Wisconsin) after two victories since we last checked with them. They also are ranked 24th in the poll, the first time they’ve been recognized in that poll since 1999.

Last Saturday, North Central squeaked out a 59-56 victory over CCIW rival Illinois Wesleyan, the lowest point total of the season for Roof’s team. And the Cardinals trailed by 15 at one point in the second half before rallying back out front.

Tess Godhardt had 13 points to lead North Central, and Jamie Cuny added five points, six rebounds and six blocked shots.

Things went a little easier Wednesday for the Cardinals, who used a huge second half to run away from Millikan 95-75. Godhardt finished with 22 points and 11 rebounds, and Cuny had 16 points (four 3-pointers), 12 rebounds and six blocks. Mayson Whipple scored 14 points off the bench.

North Central faces its most difficult game of the season Saturday, traveling to No. 13 Wheaton. The game is scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. EST.

The 59 points against Illinois Wesleyan helped drop the Cardinals’ season average to 98.8 points.

Olivet Nazarene – NAIA Division II Women

In a return engagement with Indiana University-Northwest, the Tigers lost a game that was tight throughout 98-95, falling to 11-15 overall and 3-1 in the Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference.

Abbey Hengesbach made a 3 with 27 seconds remaining to bring Olivet Nazarene within one, but Brooke Gardner converted two free throws to account for the final margin for IU-NW. Hengesbach scored 20 points to lead the Tigers and added seven rebounds and seven assists. Jayne Stuart had 15 points and Kayla Krassman and Ally Giampapa each finished with 14.

ONU’s game against conference rival Indiana University-South Bend was postponed Wednesday night because of some winter weather in the area, so coach Lauren Stamatis and her squad will get back at it Saturday at Judson University. That game is scheduled to begin at 2 p.m. EST.

Despite failing to reach at least 100 points for only the third time this season, the Tigers still are leading all of women’s basketball by averaging 110.9.

Sacramento State – NCAA Division I women

The Hornets might have turned their season around last Saturday with a thrilling 69-67 victory on the road against Big Sky Conference opponent Southern Utah. Sacramento State held the Thunderbirds scoreless for the final 3:39 of the game to avoid an 0-2 start in conference play.

Then on Thursday night, the Hornets led throughout and beat defending Big Sky champ North Dakota 93-86. Four players finished in double figures, including Hallie Gennett (18 points), Takara Burse (17), Gretchen Harrigan (16) and Brianna Burgos (16).

Sacramento State improved to 4-10 overall and 2-1 in the conference. It hosts North Colorado on Saturday, with the start scheduled for 5 p.m. EST.

Knox – NCAA Division III Women

The Prairie Fire went 1-1 in the past week, winning on the road at Ripon on Saturday 74-60 and losing a tough one Wednesday at home 108-100 to Cornell College. That still leaves coach Emily Cline’s team 5-6 overall and 3-3 in the Midwest Conference, a marked improvement from the previous three seasons with The System.

Jodi Marver led the way with 22 points against Ripon and Naja Woods had 14 against Cornell.

Knox is back on the road Saturday against Beloit. It is scheduled to start at 4 p.m. EST.

Reno Bighorns - NBA Development League

The team coached by Dave Arseneault Jr. is 0-2 so far this week, with another road game Saturday.

The Bighorns (8-9) lost at home to the Austin Spurs 138-134, then traveled to play the Rio Grand Valley Vipers on Thursday. That game was featured on ESPN's SportsCenter, as the two fasted teams in the D-League matched up.

The Vipers held on to win 159-155. Quincy Miller had 30 points and Brady Heslip added 27 in the loss.

Reno travels to Oklahoma City to face the Blue on Saturday, with the start scheduled for 8 p.m. EST.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Catching up with David Arseneault Jr. and the Reno Bighorns

Life in the NBA Development League is everything David Arseneault Jr. thought it would be.

“I’m having a blast,” the coach of the Reno Bighorns told me Monday night. “The level of athleticism and basketball skill I see every day is just incredible. To watch our System at full speed, with these guys going full speed, and to see how much ground they cover …”

He trailed off a bit there.

“I’m having a great time. It’s so much different that Division III, in the middle of Iowa at Grinnell College, that I really don’t know how to explain the difference.”

So far, so good for perhaps the grandest of experiments with the frenetically fast-paced style of basketball created by Arseneault’s father, David Sr., at aforementioned NCAA D-III Grinnell College more than 20 years ago. The younger Arseneault helped run the basketball program at the school in the five years since he graduated and no longer was eligible to be the team’s point guard.

His hiring by the Sacramento Kings to coach their affiliate in Reno turned some heads, but that hardly compares to the buzz about the Bighorns (8-7) through their first 15 games.

  • They average 141.3 points
  • They average 19 3-pointers on 50 attempts
  • Eight of the current 10 players on the roster average double figures
  • They reached a season high in points during Saturday night's 174-169 victory over the Los Angeles D-Fenders, a game in which the D-Fenders scored a D-League record 98 points in the first half
  • They gave up a D-League record 175 points to Los Angeles on Dec. 20, a game in which the D-Fenders scored 56 points in the first quarter, also a record
The exploits of Reno guard Brady Heslip deserves a few paragraphs of their own. He leads the league with 27.7 points per game and is shooting 50 percent from beyond the arc. Oh, and that’s on an average of about 14 attempts, too, so he is incredibly accurate at a high volume.

How to quantify his shooting so far? Well, since the NBA adopted the 3-point line for the 1979-80 season, a player has made at least 10 shots from behind the line in 20 games. Heslip has done so three times this season in 13 games, and his total of 13 against Idaho on Nov. 29 is one more than the NBA record that Kobe Bryant shares with Donyell Marshall.

Again, all this has come 13 games into his professional career.

“He’s got a special gift,” Arseneault said of Heslip. “I’ve still yet to see any two of his shots look different, whether he’s coming off a screen, or shooting off the dribble, or in transition. His release of the ball is the same.

“When he’s shooting after practice, he will keep backing up until he’s almost at halfcourt, and his form doesn’t change at all. It’s unbelievable.”

Anytime a player puts up crazy numbers in The System – no matter if it’s Heslip making 13 3s or Grinnell’s Jack Taylor scoring 138 points in a single game – there is a backlash against this style of play. Arseneault isn’t worried about that; his only concern is doing what he can to help Heslip get to the next level.

“I think he’s making my System look good, and I think I’m helping him look good,” Arseneault said. “He’s a darn good right wing in our System, but if scouts say they want to see him handle the ball more, then what I can try to do is put him in positions on the floor where he’s got to handle the ball.”

Perhaps the biggest drawback with coaching in the D-League is that Arseneault doesn’t know from day to day who might be available for his team’s next game; Heslip flirted with leaving for a team in Turkey as recently as last week. And as Arseneault spoke to me Monday night, about 24 hours prior to Reno’s home game against the Austin Spurs, he wasn’t certain he would have Heslip, or Quincy Miller, or any of the other players on his roster for that one.

That’s because NBA teams have the added option of a 10-day contract, which became available Monday, so callups can happen at any moment. That will leave Arseneault particularly anxious on a four-game road trip beginning Thursday night at the Rio Grande Valley Vipers.

“It’s eye-opening,” Arseneault said. “There’s just so many variables, so many moving parts, and that’s what makes it difficult. It keeps you on your toes, and keeps me thinking, trying to be creative in what we do with our lineups and our plans. Ultimately, it will help me as a coach.”

The Bighorns will play the upcoming road games in a span of six days, leaving Rio Grande and heading to Oklahoma City before a trip to Austin, Texas. The final game is in Fort Wayne, Ind., before returning to Reno for a home game against the Westchester Knicks.

And unlike NBA teams, those in the D-League travel using commercial airlines, which can be tricky.

“The trips certainly are tough for a lot of guys, like our center, Sim Bhullar, who is 7-feet-4 and weighs about 350 pounds,” Arseneault said. “It’s not easy, and it takes a lot of time. We are losing hours any time we head east from Reno.

“The second battle is we’ll only be traveling with 10 guys. So unless we get a player assigned from Sacramento, those are the only guys we’ll have to at our disposal. That makes it interesting, too.”

For now, Arseneault likes what he sees on his roster, including recent additions Quincy Miller and Jordan Hamilton, both of whom have NBA experience. Obviously, they want to get back up there as soon as possible, with Heslip and others simply looking for their first opportunity.

“When you add two guys as talented as Quincy and Jordan, that dominoes to other people who now aren’t getting quite as many looks or even guys who were playing and they’re not even on our roster,” Arseneault said. “There’s a fine line between getting talented guys and trying to validate our team chemistry.

“Some of these guys, their careers are on the line, and sometimes they might think, or they’ve been told, the best way to get noticed is to score as much as possible. That’s not actually the case. We’ve tried to help them realize that the ones getting called up are from winning teams, so we have to move the ball.”

Another player who has flourished in The System is forward David Wear, twin brother of Travis, who currently plays for the New York Knicks. David Wear was in training camp with the Kings and assigned to Reno when he was cut.

At UCLA, where he and his brother transferred after one season at North Carolina, David Wear was a solid post player not relied upon for much scoring. He averaged 6.5 points and 3.8 rebounds as a senior for the Bruins, and showed good shooting range by making 23-of-53 from the 3-point line.

David Wear has improved on that with the Bighorns. In 13 games (he missed two with turf toe), he is averaging 18.2 points and 7.2 rebounds while making 45  percent of his 3s. And that’s on 98 attempts.

Coincidentally, he’s made 44 3-pointers and 44 2-pointers, which just might make him the most statistically perfect System player on the roster.

“He told me he hasn’t felt like this since he was in high school,” Arseneault said. “In college, he always was sort of a glue guy who wasn’t known for looking for his shot. I’ve asked him to step up his scoring and that’s given him the opportunity to do this.

“I’m a firm believer that about 75-to-90 percent of shooting is mental. He has confidence in his abilities. He’s a big part of what we’re doing, not to mention he’s just a great guy who is a complete gentleman, a real professional.”

As can be expected, Arseneault has kept in touch with his father, speaking daily about what he has already seen and what he wants to see. Grinnell is off to its usual high-scoring start, leading all college teams with an average of 118 points through 11 games.

And while he misses working daily with the players at Grinnell, the younger Arseneault plans to enjoy his challenge in Reno.

“I miss the kids,” Arseneault said. “I wasn’t looking to get away from Grinnell, and I wouldn’t have left if I couldn’t have been a part of something that still encouraged experimenting and doing things differently. I still pinch myself that I’m able to do that here.

“I think it’s good for my development. I know the program at Grinnell is in great hands, and I know I can always go back."

Friday, January 2, 2015

New Year's Resolution -- Keep everyone updated about our teams!

Well, it’s that time of year. Time to put away the decorations and let life get back to normal, time to get serious about the NFL and time to turn our attention to conference play in hoops, both college and high school.

This also is the time for New Year’s resolutions, and one of my many is to do a better job for the teams I care the most about (not that it matters to them). So here’s a weekend primer for our teams running The System, with a look back at their seasons so far and what is coming up in the next few days. Best of luck to everyone!

Grinnell – NCAA Division III Men

The Pioneers lost their final three games before Christmas break and sit at 4-6 overall, 2-3 in the Midwest Conference. They had won three in a row before then, and the ups and downs should be somewhat expected since coach David Arseneault has a roster featuring 11 freshmen.

With all those newbies, seniors Jack Taylor and Luke Yeager still are around, and they’re leading the way so far. Taylor leads NCAA Division III with 31.6 points per game and Yeagar is third at 26.9, and each has a handful of monster performances.

Taylor has a season high of 52 points and scored 43 in Grinnell’s final game before the break, a disappointing home loss to Simpson College. The Pioneers led by 16 points at halftime, then were outscored 61-42 after the break to lose 104-101. Yeager went off for 50 in a loss at William Penn and had 36 in another game.

Grinnell leads all divisions in scoring (again) with an average of 117.3 points and is tops in a couple of other categories, as well: 3-pointers made and attempted (206-for-584 from beyond the); and offensive rebounds (214). Since Coach A and his team have played 10 games, averaging those figures is simple enough even for me.

The Pioneers return to action Saturday by hosting MWC opponent Lawrence at 4 p.m. EST.

North Central College – NCAA Division III Women

You’ve already heard a bit about North Central, which improved to 11-0 this week with a 106-65 victory on the road at Eureka College. That was the fifth consecutive game the Cardinals scored at least 100 points, which tied an NCAA D-III record, and their 80 3-point attempts in that one broke their own mark set earlier this season.

So far this season, North Central is averaging an all-division best 102.5 points while making 16.2 3s per game, also tops among all NCAA divisions. Tess Godhardt continues to pace the offense with 18.2 points in each contest, with six other players averaging at least 7.2 points. The balance remains strong for coach Michelle Roof.

Now it gets even harder. The Cardinals open play in the College Conference of Illinois & Wisconsin on Saturday when Illinois Wesleyan rolls into Gregory Arena, with the game scheduled to start at 6 p.m. EST.

Olivet Nazarene – NAIA Division II Women

The Tigers have won eight of their past nine games to improve to 11-4 overall and 3-1 in the Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference, with a final non-conference game Saturday on the road at Indiana University-Northwest.

Transfer Abbey Hengesbach continues to make herself right at home in The System, filling up the stat sheet each game: 24.1 points, 6.2 rebounds, 5.4 assists and 4.3 assists. She is joined in double figure scoring by Jayne Stuart (12.1 points), Kayla Krassman (10.7) and Ally Giampapa (10.2).

Olivet Nazarene leads all women’s teams in scoring – that’s NAIA or NCAA, all divisions – with 111.9 points per game. All this scoring comes from an average of 16.4 3-pointers, thanks to a pace created by an average of 21.5 steals. Both of those figures all lead all of women’s hoops, too.

After Saturday’s game, the Tigers get back into CCAC action by hosting Indiana-South Bend on Wednesday at McHie Arena.

Sacramento State – NCAA Division I women

The only Division I team playing The System is struggling this season, thanks to a brutal schedule that featured only three home games through the first 13 games. That included trips to Pac 12 opponents California, Oregon State, UCLA and Southern Cal.

The Hornets are 2-10 and 0-1 in the Big Sky Conference after losing 64-60 at Northern Arizona on Thursday. They conclude an opening two-game trip to start league play Saturday at Southern Utah, then return home for a double-dip against North Dakota and Northern Colorado.

Coach Bunky Harkleroad and his team have put up great numbers. They are eighth in the country in scoring at 84.7 points per game, which includes that season-low point total from the Northern Arizona loss, and lead everyone with an average of 13.3 3-pointers. They also are first in offensive rebounds and steals and third in turnover margin.

The big problem appears to be an inability to make shots. On Thursday, Sacramento State scored only two baskets in the final 10 minutes to lose an eight-point lead; the Hornets shot 28 percent (22-for-79) for the game, including 12-for-47 on 3s. Forcing 32 turnovers and getting up 23 more shots than the Lumberjacks wasn’t enough, unfortunately.

Sacramento State and Southern Utah are scheduled to tip off at 9 p.m. EST Saturday.

Knox – NCAA Division III Women

In her fourth year running The System, coach Emily Cline has the Prairie Fire off to their best start yet at 4-5 overall and 2-2 in the Midwest Conference. They were a combined 19-50 over the previous three seasons, including 15-39 in the MWC.

Knox has won two of its past three games heading into Saturday’s game at conference foe Ripon and is challenging for the top spot nationally among D-III schools in many statistical categories. The Prairie Fire average 94.2 points (third), 11.1 3-pointers (second), 18.8 steals (second) and 25 offensive rebounds (second), and they have a turnover margin of 11.6 (fourth).

That’s pretty good, right?

Cline is getting something from everyone, too. Only two players are in double figures – Jodi Marver (15.1 points per game) and Jessica Howard (10.3) – but 12 other players have gotten run in each of the nine games.

The tip for Saturday’s game at Ripon is scheduled for 2 p.m. EST.

Eisenhower HS – Blue Island, Ill., boys

I've spoken of my affection for the way this group plays, since coach Mike Curta has a buy-in from them that would be the envy of any team.

So far, the Cardinals are 9-3, their best start during Curta's seven-year tenure, and are putting up amazing numbers for a high school team. Remember, their games are only 32 minutes, not the 40 minutes of colleges.

Here is what Eisenhower has done so far:

  • Averaging 90.5 points on 87 shots per game
  • Forcing 30 turnovers per game
  • Averaging about 49 3-point attempts
  • Getting to the free throw line about 10 more per game than its opponent
The coach's son, point guard Vinny Curta, is averaging an area-high 23.9 points and is a big reason for the team's success. Quick side note: Vinny will join older brother Nick at Grinnell next season, continuing the family tradition with Coach A up in Iowa.

Here is a brief update from coach Curta, via the Yahoo! message board devoted to The System:
As stated in the previous posts, our success is the combination of our talent and The System. My son has developed into a really solid player and more importantly, he runs the team. I wish that I could take the credit for the success we have had, but it is really on him right now. He is our best player, one of the best in the area through the first six weeks of the season, and he has the complete respect of his teammates. He sets the tone in practices and games. We have shot the ball particularly well to this point, either from the field or the free throw line. However, our kids have the mentality to play through the entire 32-minute process. We don't get too high early when things are going well, and we don't get too low when things go poorly, either. It has been great to watch the kids develop the confidence to play this way for a full 32 minutes every game.
Well said, coach. Eisenhower takes the court again Tuesday, hosting Hinsdale South.

Reno Bighorns – NBA Developmental League

I often forget to include this team when talking about The System, since it's all so new to us. Coach Dave Arseneault Jr. has Reno at 7-7 through 14 games, good for third in the West Division. 

The season has had its ups and downs, mostly notably with the presumed departure and then reported return of Brady Heslip, who is tied for first in the league with teammate Quincy Miller at 27.1 points per game. Heslip has missed the previous two games while his contract situation cleared up; he was set to go to Turkey, where players sometimes can earn as much as 10 times their D-League salary. Last word was he was going to stay and look for a callup from an NBA team when 10-day contracts become available later this month.

So far, The System has been inconsistent. When the commitment and effort are there, it's a beautiful thing to see. The Bighorns average a league-best 139 points, with a season high of 156 in a victory over Erie on Dec. 14. 

Reno makes 18.6 3-pointers per game on an average of 49 attempts and forces about 24 turnovers in each one, so The System does work. Once the roster stabilizes (or should I say, "if"), coach Arseneault should have a better opportunity to show what it really can do.

The Bighorns travel to Los Angeles to take on the LA D-fenders on Saturday, with the game scheduled to start at 9:30 p.m. EST. Remember, all D-League games are available live on YouTube, with links available on the league's Website.