ESPN’s SportsCenter opened this morning with Division Three basketball highlights as Grinnell College’s (Iowa) Jack Taylor score 138 points, propelling the team to a 179-104 victory over Faith Baptist Bible. The 138-point performance demolished the record set by Clarence “Bevo” Francis in 1954 of 113 points.
Many this morning find themselves stunned by Taylor’s performance. The Worldwide Leader in Sports continues to run segment after segment featuring the highlights and explaining how 138 points in 36 minutes is an exhausting athletic feat.
However, what ESPN and many others fail to realize is that Taylor’s record-breaking showing is the result of poor basketball, not of an outrageously talented collegiate guard.
The box score shows nothing more than a track meet, certainly not a basketball game.
Taylor’s PRA slash line is a joke; not the type of low-digit joke we see when NBA players have an off night, rather the type of joke that by no means should be obtained in a game of organized basketball – whether at the high school, collegiate, or professional levels – by a team’s point guard: 138/3/0. Forget the outrageously high point total and focus on the inexcusably low assist mark. When there is not one assist from the team’s starting point guard, there’s a problem greater than the achievement of 138 points. How he managed to still turn the ball over six times, I do not know. Sure, feeding the hot hand is often a valid excuse, but no hot hand should shoot the ball 108 times in 36 minutes, an average of exactly one shot per 20 seconds, or take 71 three point shots, one shot from behind the arc every 30.4 seconds. How is it plausible to even find the open man when one player is shooting every 20 seconds? Better yet, how can you find the best shot when you’re shooting threes every 30 seconds? Taylor finished the game with as many personal fouls as he did assists: zero; not one offensive foul on a hard drive to the basket, not one foul on tough defense. Zero.
What type of basketball is this?
Well, I guess now you can say it’s David Arsenault basketball. As ESPN’s Eamonn Brennan noted in his blog today, Arsenault, head coach of Grinnell, uses a specific offensive system:
For the past two decades, Grinnell coach David Arseneault has been running his system (“The System”), based on his formula (“The Formula”), which explicitly requires his team to shoot at least 94 field goals per game, 47 of which should be 3-pointers. Arseneault recruits almost exclusively sharpshooting guards, so that his players can be interchangeable when he runs them in quickfire all-five line changes every other minute. It’s a totally insane, totally thrilling way to play basketball, and it’s also an elephant and a tiger and a creepy clown shy of a straight-up circus freakshow.
I would say it is more freakshow, less basketball. It is clear what Arseneault was trying to do last night (also touched on by Brennan). He was not coaching basketball, drawing-up a plan to beat Faith Baptist Bible. Instead he was drawing-up a plan to place Grinnell on ESPN and everywhere else from Yahoo! to USA Today. There are more things written today about a small college in Iowa than there probably ever will be.
One can argue it is smart business for a small college that needs recruits. The tagline of “if you want to score points, come to Grindell!” will sell.
But it is also something else.
It’s borderline sabotage. Take for example Faith Baptist Bible forward David Larson and his 70 points on 34-44 shooting. Forget explaining how a player can score 138 points in 36 minutes, and start explaining how a player is allowed to score 70 points on 77% shooting. The best explanation is a total disregard for defense. Arseneault was content with allowing Larson to score at will and as quickly as possible in order to get the ball back into the hands of Taylor.
And speaking of sabotage, some may be left wondering exactly how big of a part Faith Baptist Bible played in this. As a team, Faith Baptist turned the ball over 49 times (the NBA record is 43 in 1971) with Eric Young surrendering 16 turnovers and Tyler Betz adding 15 of his own. There is, actually, an explanation for the turnovers. Center Betz is prone to turnovers (25 in his 5 previous games) and as a team Faith Baptist averaged 24.5 turnovers in four regular season games this season. To some extent, Grinnell and Arseneault actually focus on defense; that is, if defense was only steals. Grinnell totaled 29 steals last night, and that is not rare for them. On the 17th they forced Crown College to turn the ball over 42 times. That will happen when you play fresh legs against a tired rotation of players. Arseneault played 20 different players last night compared to Faith Baptist’s ten.
You can call it a freakshow. You can call it whatever. I just would not call it basketball. It’s hardly a basketball feat by an individual player, but the success of a formula that only calls for shots, defense strictly in the form of steals, and more shots. It is a formula not to win, but to become famous; to put a tiny school in Iowa on SportsCenter and allow the Google searches and, subsequently, the recruits to roll in.
It’s a formula designed for the Flavor of the Month. Jack Taylor was able to score 138 points this time without passing the ball as his team sat idly by. Griffin Lentsch was able to score 89 points in the same system nearly a year to the date.
Last night Lentsch played 14 minutes and took only three shots.