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February 01, 2004

Hoop Games Average A Point Every 7.8 Seconds

FROM IOWA COMES WORD that the Division III Grinnell College Pioneers are averaging nearly 130 points per game this year. Their games are scoring performances, with little heed played to defense. Grinnell scores so prolifically that it is difficult for scorekeepers, scoreboard operators and referees to keep up. In 1994 the Pioneers set an NCAA record by scoring 149 points in a loss to Illinois College, which scored 157. (That’s a point every 7.8 seconds).

Theirs is the ultimate game of run and gun, wherein they routinely pull up at the three point line and fire away. Even on fast break opportunities, the Pioneers have been known to pass up the chance at a lay-up by stopping short to launch a 3-pointer.

Stated simply, Grinnell’s game strategy is to score more threes than the greater number of 2-point field goals that they allow. Grinnell averages 63 3-point shots per game (and makes about a third). Many teams take a month to shoot that many.

When a Pioneer takes a trey, all four of his teammates crash the boards. If they get a rebound they do not go back up with it—that would only get two points. Instead they dish the ball back to the shooter who fired the 3-pointer. The objective is to get the ball back into the hands of the same shooter at the same spot that he missed from. If a good shooter can get back the ball within 10 seconds he will compensate for his miss and likely convert the second attempt.

Many opponents and fans are displeased with the highly unorthodox style of play. A rival coach has said that Grinnell “makes a travesty of the game.”

But Grinnell’s strategy has served them well. They are 13-2 this season and have been in and out of the rankings for the Top 25 Division III schools in the country.

Grinnell’s game plan also includes an all-out double and triple-teaming full court press for the entire game. In order to maintain such a frenetic pace throughout the entire game, Coach David Arseneault rotates his entire 16-man roster early and often. With a dizzying staccato-like rapidity, he regularly substitutes all five players every minute or so. His players are expected to go all out every second they are on the floor. This platooning resembles hockey line changes.

Opponents are typically befuddled by such an exhausting, wide-open back-and-forth game. By the time they get the hang of it, they’re down by thirty and they’re exhausted.

Grinnell’s practices are as unusual as their games. For most of the practice they do nothing but shoot 3-pointers. Each player takes about a hundred 3 pointers at each practice session.

Arseneault, in his 15th season, inherited a chronically awful program when he started in 1989. Grinnell had won only four games in the previous three seasons, plus they had endured 25 consecutive losing seasons.

He explained the team's style of play. “We're trying to perfect chaos. We have fun. It's almost a lost art in sports.” Chaos? Wasn’t that what happened in the Jurassic Park movie?

“We’re like a WWF act,” said Arseneault, “We’ve got to keep the fans entertained.”

(This excerpt was sourced from the New York Times of 1-29-04 and MaineToday.com of 1-1-04)