Friday, November 23, 2012

Jack Taylor’s Bogus Journey

By Kevin Beane

You've probably heard about tiny Grinnell College's Jack Taylor going for an NCAA record 138 points earlier this week against Faith Baptist Bible College. "Neat!" you might have thought. "He must be really good, he should transfer to D1," you might have thought. But it was not neat, and Taylor's record has more in common with Kazakshtan beating Thailand 52-1 in ice hockey than it has with Wilt Chamberlain's 100-point game. Here are six facts about the game and Grinnell's basketball "philosophy."

1. Drive around any decent-sized city until you find a full-court game with adults being played. Chances are, those guys you see are better than the basketball team at Faith Baptist. I say this not to be mean to Faith Baptist, just stating a fact. They don't play in the NCAA or even the NAIA, but something called the NCCAA (National Christian College Athletic Association). I'm the biggest college sports guru I know, and I hadn't even heard of the NCCAA until a few months ago while researching a different article.

They have less than 600 students, and none of them, I feel safe in saying, chose Faith Baptist for basketball-related reasons. These are a dozen or so random guys who like to shoot around against a team that is specifically designed to humiliate such teams.

2. Speaking of that design, this is not the first time in recent years that Grinnell has attracted attention for mondo bozo stats. Last year, Grinnell's Griffin Lentsch scored 89 in a game and it made ESPN.com. Lentsch played against Faith Baptist, too. He scored 7 points on three shots. He did not start.

3. The Grinnell game plan was this, and they run a similar MO when playing any other overmatched team: designate a guy to break all the scoring records he can. Keep him in the game as much as possible, and do not let him play defense. Do not even let him cross over to the defensive side of the court. He needs to be available for baseball passes when the other team misses. Other players should shoot very sparingly and indeed, there were many instances of Taylor's teammates passing up wide open layups to get it to him, usually behind the arc.

4. This strategy is pretty much admitted by the charlatan Head Coach of Grinnell, David Arsenault. As Deadspin points out, Arsenault actively touts such a system, and that's not all. He hawks it for money, via books and videos. What a better way to get your product out there than to orchestrate ludicrous individual performances in this team game and wait for the media to swoop in?

5. Arsenault's system is this, again via Deadspin: "94S + 47 3's + 33%OR + 25SD + 32 TO's = W

The 'Formula for Success' has withstood the test of time. Since 1996, whenever the Pioneers have attempted 94 shots, with half of those shots from behind the arc, offensive rebounded 33% of their missed shot attempts, taken 25 more shots than their opponent and forced the opposition into committing 32 turnovers, they have won at nearly a 95% clip."

This can only work if the team you are playing sucks. Against competent opposition, jacking 47 threes is pretty risky, you will likely not force them into such a high amount of turnovers, and you obviously cannot play 4-on-5 on defense like Grinnell did against Faith Baptist.

Arsenault's system is actually a scam in the classic sense. Have you seen classified ads on how you can make big bucks from home just stuffing envelopes, send us $5 and we'll give you the secret? Then you find the secret is to take out a bunch of classified ads asking marks to send you $5.

Arsenault's scam works much the same way: Buy my books and DVDs, and I'll show you how to rape your inferior opposition in such a way that the national media takes note, and then you too can monetize the publicity.

6. Just how embedded is Arsenault's system? The announcers were speculating during pre-game that Taylor would be setting records tonight (he shot 5-of-18 and 6-of-23 in Grinnell's previous two games, clearly a man destined to change basketball as we know it). The below tidbits from Tyler Burns, who mercifully watched the game tape so I don't have to and hence throw my laptop against the wall in disgust):

"The announcer actually said that Grinnell will look on their schedule for their weaker opponents and do everything they can to run up the score and break records. This is all within the game plan. One tactic the announcer mentioned was called 'The Bomb Squad.' If Grinnell’s opponent gets into the double bonus, Grinnell will sub in five freshmen players, foul their opponent immediately once the ball is in play, send them to the line, then sub the freshmen players out to put their scorers back in on offense. This takes almost no time off the clock, giving their starters as many offensive possessions as possible. To win the game? No, not necessarily. To break records.

"Every single person in that gym–the players, the announcers, the coaches, the fans–were hell-bent on setting records during this game. The entire flow was completely fixed to feed Jack Taylor the ball on every single possession. The announcer was even counting down the record for most points in a HALF. Who cares about that record? Grinnell does. It was weird."

"Weird" is the very, very kindest word I can think of to describe the mockery. This is the most carefully-engineered and therefore egregious act of unsportsmanship I have ever heard of.

Last year, North Carolina was second in Division I in scoring, with 82 points per game. If there was any justice, the NCAA would mandate that UNC play Grinnell, using Grinnell's tactics. And foul Jack Taylor hard. No. Foul David Arsenault hard.

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