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.

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