Surely, this couldn’t have been what Robert Naismith envisioned when he invented basketball in 1891.
In a Division III NCAA men’s basketball game on Thursday, Grinnell College upended Emmaus Bible College to the tune of 124-67.
Now, typically, a lopsided Division III basketball game isn’t anything to write home about. That is, until you see the extreme game plan that Grinnell deployed to win.
The Pioneers set an NCAA single-game record for three-point attempts, with 111 shots from beyond the arc. As the Des Moines Register pointed out, that record holds at every level of the NCAA.
It’s also the ultimate goal of an offensive philosophy that Grinnell calls “The System,” which is predicated on getting as many three-point shots and layups as possible, as well as using mass substitutions to keep those jump-shooting legs fresh.
Well, they succeeded in two out of those three categories on Thursday. (Grinnell played 19 players in the game.)
Grinnell didn’t attempt a single field goal inside the arc, and yes, that includes layups. Hilariously, the team was fouled on a handful of attempts and did shoot a whopping six free throws.
The Pioneers made 40 of those 111 shots, coming in at a pretty meager 36 percent clip. For reference, the worst shooting team in the NBA this year is still making 44.4 percent of their field goals. Emmaus actually scored on 46.8 percent of their shots on Thursday.
But that does appear to be the crux of “The System.”
If you want to make it a numbers game, it actually makes a ton of sense to shoot as many threes as possible. Not to get too nerdy here, but making 33.3 percent of your three-point shots has the same yield as making 50 percent of the same number of two-pointers. “The System” obviously takes that mathematical fact to its extreme.
“It was something that I had wondered if it was possible for probably the last decade, just thinking about it, exactly how it would work, would it be actually even feasible to do this for an entire game and if you did it, what would your shooting percentage look like,” Grinnell coach David Arseneault Jr. said.
“It was certainly an interesting experiment.”
Grinnell posted the “highlights” of the game on Twitter, and it looks… exactly how you’d expect it to look (including the virtually empty gymnasium):
Check out all 40 threes from yesterday’s win! pic.twitter.com/AxVgqSkhub
— Grinnell College MBB (@GCPioneerHoops) December 9, 2022
While Grinnell’s relative inefficiency shooting the basketball limited them to “only” 124 points, the previous record-holder for most three-point attempts in a game actually scored 258 points. That happened in 1992 when Troy University attempted 109 three-point shots in a 258-141 win over DeVry University.
The Troy-DeVry game still holds the record for the highest-scoring game in NCAA history, according to ESPN.
This actually isn’t the first time that Grinnell’s “System” has produced historic results.
In 2012, Grinnell star Jack Taylor set the NCAA record with 138 points in a game. Sadly, the best Taylor could do for an encore the following year was a paltry 109 points.
Grinnell’s constant flirtation with basketball history does raise the question of whether or not this is actually good for the game of basketball.
At its core, basketball is a team sport, not a computer equation to be solved with brute force. At its highest level, it is a symphony of five minds thinking as one and using teamwork to accomplish their goals.
And yet, the pure math is hard to argue against.
While not nearly as extreme, this strategy of heavily emphasizing three-point shots can be found in the NBA G League. The Rio Grande Valley Vipers, Maine Celtics, Wisconsin Herd and Fort Wayne Mad Ants all attempt over 40 three-pointers a game. That makes up nearly half of their total shots.
Even in the NBA, the three-point philosophy is apparent. The teams that made the NBA Finals last year, the Boston Celtics and Golden State Warriors, are leading the league with over 40 three-point attempts a game. Even a team as talent-deficient as the Dallas Mavericks is making up for it with a single star player and a bunch of role players chucking 40 three-point shots a game.
At the end of the day, sports trends come and go.
Unfortunately for basketball fans who want to watch more than players merely dribbling the ball past halfcourt and launching a shot, it does not appear that this three-point craze will be dying down anytime soon.
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