Grinnell-Beloit: D3 Hits the Big Time
Last evening was an outstanding night of basketball, and I didn't even get to see the high school game on ESPN2. Instead, I opted to warm myself up for the feature D3 game with a helping of NC State and North Carolina, because hey, you have to cherish every moment that you can of a special talent like Sean May. The Heels have a few other good players, too, and put down a decent NC State team as if they were Prairie View. But big time college basketball is no match for a nationally televised game between mediocre Division 3 teams. Grinnell (5-13) squared off with Beloit (7-11) in a somewhat meaningless conference matchup which begged the question of whether the head of programming at ESPN2 even looked into whether Grinnell was expected to be good this year. I suppose it didn't matter much, since this was basically just a novelty game to showcase Grinnell's ridiculous system (which admittedly, I'm still disappointed I didn't get to see in person last weekend, due to my office party). And the novelty was pointed out by the announcers, ad nauseum. If I didn't know anything else at the end of the night, I would have still remembered that Grinnell's primary offensive goal is to shoot the ball at least 100 times per game. Fortunately, I remember a heck of a lot more, since I was still sick, and I didn't have much else to think about:
1) As I alluded to in my intro, and one of my friends who saw Grinnell come to town last week pointed out, the problem with Grinnell this year is that they're just not that great at basketball. For a team that likes to put up 50 3-pointers per game, they sure weren't adept at shooting the ball. At a certain point, no matter what your system, you need to have some basketball skill. From everything I understand, this would have been a really, really cool thing to watch the last few years, when Grinnell had some athletes and was on top of its game. Last night they didn't even break 100 points--certainly not what ESPN was hoping for. The two minutes that I caught of the upper-level high school teams playing beforehand looked better than Grinnell and Beloit last night.
2) Early in the game I saw Beloit's Derek Allen. Perhaps you saw him, too. He was the guy with the mustache. Yes, a mustache. Hey Derek, 1985 called--it wants its facial hair back. Seriously, where does this guy live--Beloit? Wait, never mind--I understand now.
3) Well, as much as the announcers managed to harp on the uniqueness of the Grinnell system, they did spew out of a number of interesting comments. Among the first that I heard was that a few years back the Grinnell coach had a couple of students conduct an independent study, worth 2 credits apiece, where they broke down the record of Grinnell and the times when they met each of their offensive goals over a handful of seasons. The goal was to statistically analyze the soundness of the theories upon which the Grinnell system is based. Where were studies like this when I was in college? Yes, I took a pet care course in which I sat in front of the offensive line of the 1997-98 Wisconsin football team, and I did write the landmark term paper "College Basketball and Television: A Revolutionary Change of the Past 20 Years," and I even garned an "A" in my video production course for my instructional video on how to use a urinal, but never did I earn credit for breaking down game tape. Maybe I should have given more thought to a small, liberal arts college?
4) Speaking of studies at small colleges, the announcers also went on to point out shortly thereafter that the ballplayers from Grinnell and Beloit all attend rigorous academic institutions, and routinely have 3-4 hours of studying on any given night. Okay, now I'll grant you that Grinnell and Beloit are solid schools. I know a handful of people that attended Grinnell, and all are very intelligent. I actually don't know that many people who ended up in Beloit (thank goodness), but it's my understanding that it's a fairly decent school. 3-4 hours, though? Who in college legitimately studied for 3-4 hours every night? I mean, other than my roommate my sophomore year in college, who's perhaps the most disciplined man that I know. If people routinely put in 20 hours in addition to class each week, we wouldn't have things like collegehumor.com. Granted, I may have done a little less than the norm that semester that I was enrolled in Olympic History (where I was allowed to opt out of the final due to my high acheivement), but I can't think of too many 4 hour nights in college. I can think of a few 15 hour nights, and the smartest guy that I've ever known put in a 36-hour night from time to time, but that's what college students do--cram it all in on Sunday night every 2 months or so. So Grinnell and Beloit as rigorous institutions? Sure, I believe it. 3-4 hours per night of studying for each student? Nope, not buying it.
5) I knew that Grinnell subbed a lot, and played in hockey-like shifts, but I didn't know that those shifts only lasted a minute apiece. Aside from the fast pace of the game, the announcers noted that the coach of Grinnell had informed them that part of the reason that shifts were only a minute apiece was that he could only hold practice for about an hour and fifteen minutes or so each day, and therefore, couldn't properly condition his guys to play longer. Again, not buying it. I know Grinnell's pace is frantic, but if you have an hour per night to work, you should be able to condition yourself to go hard in more than one minute spurts. I mean, heck, the other team isn't just standing around watching them run, and its not like they have an extra hour of practice each night. And let's be honest, if you can't play basketball for more than a minute at a time--even up-tempo, Grinnell-style basketball--then you're probably in absolutely awful shape. I think even I, currently in less-than-phenomenal shape, and with my nagging flu, could probably log 20 minutes for Grinnell without passing out. When I was 19, this wouldn't even have been a question. I think perhaps this should be one of the new physical standards for our country--if you can't play one half of basketball for Grinnell, you are officially horrendously out of shape.
6) I was cleaning my living room closet near the end of the first half and missed some of the commentary, but I think I heard someone say that there was a 16-year-old who had skipped 5th grade playing in the game. As if the game needed more novelty...
7) At one point, I actually saw an excited Grinnell student in the crowd wearing The Big Shocker. Definitely more appropriate here than at that high school game earlier this year.
8) Grinnell and Beloit, just like the big schools, got to show their promotional commercials during the game. Beloit's wasn't bad. Grinnell's left a bit to be desired. It featured alumnus Joseph Welch, a 1917 graduate, who from what I could discern from the commercial, was somewhat instrumental in the downfall of Joseph McCarthy. I wasn't too clear on what was going on, though, and briefly thought that Grinnell was touting McCarthy as a graduate (in fact, we in Wisconsin are not so lucky, as our native Senator is a Marquette grad). Aside from the clarity issue, though, isn't Grinnell's target audience college-bound 18-year-olds, none of whom would likely choose their college based on someone associated with either taking down or promoting McCarthyism, depending on what the commercial was saying.
9) Beloit leading scorer Josh Hinz is a Fort Atkinson product, so my buddy Brian from Fort gets a shout-out.
10) Near the end of the second half, Grinnell player Lance Little stepped to the foul line, giving the announcers an opportunity to talk about him. And they did. And from what I gather, they either lied about him, or were lied to. You see, they noted that Little, who grew up near Grinnell, had dreamed of growing up to play for the hometown college team? Really? So as a 9-year-old, little was out in his driveway shooting jumpers and thinking "Someday I'm going to play Division 3 ball at Grinnell and pay a high tution so that I can be an underappreciate basketball player and perhaps even get an economics degree!" Now, I mean no disrespect to D3 ball players, who are generally underapreciated for their vast talents and intense dedication to the game, but is that what every kid dreams of? I can see young Lance Little dreaming of playing in, say, Carver Hawkeye arena for Iowa, but not Grinnell. That would be like me dreaming when I was 9 that I would play for Wisconsin Lutheran College, when everyone knew that I was actually going to go to Marquette and make people forget the name Tom Copa before becoming the next in a long line of stiff, white centers for the Milwaukee Bucks.
So after Beloit put Grinnell out of its misery, for juxtoposition's sake, I turned on the Washington State-UCLA game to see if Dick Bennett could slow down a game as well as Grinnell could speed it up. Apparently Bennett was a bit better with his near-novelty approach to the game, as he actually took UCLA to overtime, and would have won if not for a) a 3-point shot by UCLA's Dijon Thompson at the buzzer in regulation, and b) the inability of WSU starting center Jeff Varem to fight through the same baseline screen three times in a row in overtime. All in all, a great night of ball--and I didn't even get to catch Ike Diogu dropping 39 on Stanford. Maybe another night.