Grinnell may not do things the right way, but how should you feel about Jack Taylor?

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He was on the phone, on live television, when it finally hit him. Jonathan Coachman was introducing him on to the late edition of SportsCenter and as the first question was asked, he took it all in and reflected on what he had just accomplished.

All the previous events in his life – the injury, the transfer, the newfound faith, the highs, the lows, the missed shots and the made 3-pointers – had all blended together in this one moment.

It was November 20, 2012 and Jack Taylor had scored 138 points that night for Grinnell College – a Division III program in Iowa – and shattered the NCAA single-game scoring record.

Taylor has reemerged in the national spotlight this weekend after scoring 71 points in Pioneers’ opener and then went over the century mark once again with a 109-point performance two days later.

Taylor, a second-year transfer from Wisconsin-La Crosse, is averaging 90.0 points per game this season, a slight bump up from the 23.5 points he averaged through two games last season, entering the team’s home opener against Faith Baptist Bible College.

“His shooting performance in those first two games was pathetic,” Grinnell associate coach David N. Arsenault said. “I actually asked him, ‘Hey Jack, the shots that you’re taking in the game, can you make those? I don’t know. Either you start making them or we’ll have to find better looks for you.’”

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AP

Taylor, who refers to himself as a streaky shooter, entered that record-breaking game in a slump, having converted on only 11-of-44 (6-of-37 3-point) field goal attempts.

“Before the game, I just remember being pretty nervous because I kind of knew going into the game that I was going to get up more shots than usually to try and break me out of that slump that I was in,” Taylor told NBCSports.com “I’d say it was pretty much an all-day thing.”

The all-day nerves became nightlong fame. Word of Taylor’s 52-for-108 (27-of-71 3-point) shooting performance quickly spread and soon after he was trending on Twitter, with the likes of Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant and LeBron James in awe of what they had heard happened in a 1,200-seat gymnasium on a small liberal arts college campus in Iowa.

“When I woke up in the morning, my friends had texted me, and said, ‘Kobe’s talking about you. Carmelo is talking about you. LeBron. Kevin Durant,’” Taylor said. “And that’s when I noticed that people across the world are finding out about this.”

Taylor wanted to be a fixture on the national college basketball landscape, hoping to land a Division I offer while at Black River Falls High (Wisc.) and then again in a post-graduate season at Mercersburg Academy (Pa.).

“At that time basketball was what I was living for,” Taylor said. “It was something that I worshiped. It was kind of like my God.”

It was during his prep school year when Taylor would have a turning point in his life. He tore his ACL, MCL and lateral meniscus, putting his basketball career on hold. That is when he devoted his attention to his faith and became a born-again Christian.

“All of the college coaches kind of stopped calling,” he added. “I was really down in the dumps because the most important thing in my life had been taken away from me. It was kind of soul-searching. I was living for a game and in those hard times I started taking Jesus seriously and what He was saying seriously and I ended up giving my life to Jesus.”

That newfound faith would shape Taylor as a person and as a player, helping him not get overwhelmed by the record-breaking performance, the media hype or the criticism that came along with the 138 points.

“That really helped me stay humble, giving God the glory and not trying to get it all for myself,” Taylor said.

Fifty days after the Faith Baptist game, Taylor was put in a familiar position. Basketball was taken away again. Taylor attacked the basket and when he elevated he was met with a Cornell College defender looking to draw a charge. He put his hand down to brace his fall and when he hit the deck immediately knew his wrist was broken.

“Him being injured before, and his faith, helped him keep level head throughout this injury,” Arsenault said. “He managed to keep his emotions in check and not show anything to the team and still encourage them.”

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AP

Taylor returned from injury and has scored 180 points in a total of 61 minutes this season. The point total is impressive, but part of the reason for the high-scoring start, is the same reason why people are critical of Grinnell’s style, and Taylor’s records.

It was a gimmick offense when it was first put into place at Grinnell more than 20 years ago, and it’s continued to be a spectacle since. The program gains criticism for feeding one player the ball repeatedly, in an effort to post an outrageous individual scoring number, usually against a team overmatched by the Pioneers’ press and depth.

And then there’s the question of why. Why does Grinnell schedule a team they have no business playing then do everything they can to run up the score and put up huge scoring numbers? Is it for attention? Is it for publicity? Does that attention and publicity have anything to do with the book that head coach David Arsenault is selling about “The System”?

There are a lot of people that hate that system and that hate the way Grinnell plays. And that’s fine. They bring it on themselves. And while you can hate “The System” and you can hate the program’s attempts to draw national acclaim through a “competition” that’s more on par with the Harlem Globetrotters than with Division I basketball, but should you hate Jack Taylor?

Yes, he takes the majority of the shots. Yes, he’ll likely take the scoring title this season (and probably again next season). But no, he won’t solely take the credit. That he’ll gladly dish off.

“Being a part of a team that supports you and is just so unselfish … it’s such an awesome experience to be part of a team like that,” Taylor said. “A team that isn’t out for themselves, but is committed to doing something great even if it only reflects on one player.”

A year ago tonight, the coaching staff walked into the locker room at halftime and told the team that Taylor had 58 points. The place erupted, with a decision made to keep giving Taylor the rock.

“I look over and one of our other point guards is diagraming how he was going to get Jack the ball on a backdoor cut if the defense keeps over playing,” Arsenault recalls.

Taylor isn’t caught up in the hysteria or criticism surrounding his scoring average or records. It’s mainly due to his faith, but also because Taylor, 23, is older than the typical college junior.

He doesn’t want to reminisce on his past performances, maybe he will once his playing career has concluded. He even had to be reminded that Wednesday night’s game against Wartburg College falls on the one-year anniversary of his milestone.

“Oh is that the 20th?” Taylor asks.

He may not look back to 138-point night, but is he eyeing 139?

“I’m not,” Taylor said. “I just want to win basketball games. If I get hot I’m going to keep shooting. And in ‘The System’ anything can happen.

“I’m the kind of the guy, where you think things happen not by chance. If I wouldn’t have torn my ACL, maybe I get a scholarship and average eight points per game as a senior point guard on a D1 team. I sure wouldn’t have ended up at Grinnell.”

How Duke’s porous defense stacks up historically with past title winners

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For the last three years, Duke’s issues on the defensive side of the ball have been constant and pervasive.

Whether it’s their issues defending on the perimeter, or the problems they have dealing with ball-screens, or the freedom of movement rule changes inhibiting their ability to get out and pressure in the half court, the truth is that Mike Krzyzewski’s program has become synonymous with highlight reel offense and matador defense.

Since 2011, only two Duke teams have finished in the top 45 of KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency metric, and only one of those teams finished in the top 25. That was in 2015, when the Blue Devils went from being a mess on that end of the floor in January to the 37th-best defensive at the start of the NCAA tournament to national champions after playing defense at a level that would set records if it lasted for the entirety of a season.

The question this year is whether or not Duke will be capable of pulling off a similar turnaround in March, which made me wonder: How unique was Duke’s 2015 national title? Have we seen a team that struggled as much as they did defensively win a national title before? How many times have teams been able to fix their flaws by getting hot for six games in March?

I went back and looked at the offensive and defensive efficiency rankings for every Final Four team in the KenPom era, both after the tournament came to an end and prior to the start of the dance. The numbers that come before the start of the tournament are the most interesting to me, because teams making a run through the dance are going to see a significant chance in their rankings as they best good teams.

The numbers used in here are where each team ranks nationally. KenPom’s adjusted efficiency margins – what he uses to rank teams – cannot be compared across seasons. KenPom’s database dates back to the 2001-2002 season.

Here’s what I found:

1. NO CHAMPION HAS PLAYED WORSE DEFENSE THAN 2009 NORTH CAROLINA

North Carolina’s 2009 title team had the lowest defensive efficiency ranking of the KenPom era. They entered the NCAA tournament ranked 39th nationally, two spots worse than where the 2015 Duke team.

The 2014 UConn team that won the national title on the back of Shabazz Napier was the worst offensive team of the KenPom era to win a title, entering the tournament ranked 58th.  In fact, that 2014 UConn team was ranked lower than 2010 Butler, which is the only other team ranked outside the top 45 in offensive efficiency to get to the national title game.

Defense may win championships, but in college hoops, the average ranking for teams getting to the national title game – and for teams winning the national title – was higher in offensive efficiency than in defensive efficiency.

2. DUKE WOULD BE THE WORST DEFENSIVE TEAM TO GET TO THE TITLE GAME

Duke currently ranks 72nd in adjusted defensive efficiency. The only team to rank that low defensively was Butler in 2011, but that was also a weird year in the NCAA tournament. No. 3 seed UConn, No. 4 seed Kentucky, No. 8 seed Butler and No. 11 seed VCU all reached the Final Four; VCU made it after starting the tournament off in the First Four.

Butler got out of the first weekend that year thanks to what might be the weirdest finish to a game in NCAA tournament history. They handled good Wisconsin and Florida teams to get to the Final Four, where the Bulldogs faced off with VCU – by far the worst team to get to the Final Four in the KenPom era – before losing to UConn in the title game.

The only other team to rank outside of the top 40 defensively was Trey Burke’s 2013 Michigan team. They were 66th entering the tournament:

For comparison’s sake, UConn’s 2014 title is the only time a team outside of the top 50 offensively reached the title game. Only four other teams, all runner-ups, got to a title game ranked outside the top 25 in offensive efficiency, and the only other title team to rank outside the top 20 in offensive efficiency was UConn in 2011:

3. TO WIN A TITLE, YOU MUST BE ELITE AT SOMETHING OR HAVE A SUPERSTAR

Of the 16 national champions in the KenPom era, 75 percent of them ranked in the top 10 of either offensive or defensive efficiency entering the NCAA tournament.

The four that didn’t:

Syracuse was led by Carmelo Anthony in 2003. Florida has Joakim Noah, Al Horford and Corey Brewer in 2006 and went on to repeat with that same core of players the next year. UConn has Kemba Walker and Shabazz Napier in 2011 and 2014, respectively.

Player of the Year Power Rankings: Jalen Brunson is making up ground

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1. TRAE YOUNG, Oklahoma: Trae Young is the runaway favorite for National Player of the Year. At this point, if he doesn’t win the award, something crazy will have to happen.

So I’ll be using this space simply to take a look at my favorite part of the way that the players on this list play. Here is a look at the way that Young was able to create space to his threes off against TCU. Like Steph Curry, Young is short, doesn’t get all that much elevation when he shoots and a relatively low release-point. But quick feet, a super-quick release, ridiculous range and an innate ability to stay on-balance lets him do things like this:

(Some of these shots are insanely difficult.)

2. JALEN BRUNSON, Villanova: Brunson has added a new wrinkle to his game this season, as he is now being allowed to post up with more impunity. This creates a nightmare scenario for opponents. He is simply too good and too big for just about any point guard to stop on the block, but you cannot send an extra defender because double-teaming one of the best point guards in the country is just not doable, not when he is surrounded by four knock-down shooters.

Here’s a breakdown of why this makes Villanova that much more dangerous.

3. MARVIN BAGLEY III, Duke: The debate over whether or not Bagley is better than Ayton is going to rage all season long. Personally, I think that Ayton is a better prospect that Bagley largely because I think he has an easier fit defensively at the next level. Right now, however, Ayton is probably a marginally better defender while Bagley is a better offensive weapon.

But Bagley is clearly the leader in terms of the Player of the Year race for the simple fact that he has won games on his own by simply being absolutely dominant in the paint.

4. DEANDRE AYTON, Arizona: See above.

5. KEENAN EVANS, Texas Tech: For my money, four of the spots for first-team all-american are more or less locked in: Young, Brunson, Bagley and Ayton. There is a lot of season left to play, but right now those four have a solid lead on the field.

My favorite subplot of the race for the Big 12 title is that each of the four teams at the top of the conference are led by point guards that have a real shot at being first-team all-americans. Young, obviously, is going to be there. But the fifth-spot is race between Evans, Devonte’ Graham and Jevon Carter. A week ago I thought Carter was the pick. After seeing what Evans did down the stretch in a win over the Mountaineers over the weekend, I’m now leaning his way. But Graham, who has been terrific all season long, was good down the stretch in a win at West Virginia.

6. DEVONTE’ GRAHAM, Kansas
7. JEVON CARTER, West Virginia
8. TRA HOLDER, Arizona State
9. KEITA BATES-DIOP, Ohio State
10. TREVON BLUIETT, Xavier

ALSO CONSIDERED: MIKAL BRIDGES, Villanova; JOCK LANDALE, Saint Mary’s; DAKOTA MATHIAS, Purdue; YANTE MATEN, Georgia; LUKE MAYE, North Carolina; SHAKE MILTON, SMU; JORDAN MURPHY, Minnesota;  DESI RODRIGUEZ, Seton Hall; LANDRY SHAMET, Wichita State; KHYRI THOMAS, Creighton; ALLONZO TRIER, Arizona

VIDEO: Providence coach Ed Cooley always needs a mic

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On Friday night at DePaul, Providence head coach Ed Cooley allowed himself to be mic’d up for a TV broadcast, and things got interesting.

Around the 36 second mark, Cooley starts talking about … vampires and bats and dracula?

Then robbing banks and saying thank you?

I don’t know. Just watch.

VIDEO: Kansas celebrates in locker room after West Virginia win

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After coming from 16 points down to knock off No. 6 West Virginia in Morgantown on Monday night, Kansas had themselves some fun in the visitor’s locker room.

I’m not exactly sure what is happening here, but I do know Devonte’ Graham is having a hell of a time.

COLUMN: Kansas is back on top in the Big 12

My only question … where is Billy Preston’s shirt? He didn’t even play:

No. 10 Kansas overcomes deficits and its own issues to win at No. 6 West Virginia

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It’s hard to look at Kansas – the roster, the stats, the resume and all that comes with it – and not conclude this is the most vulnerable squad the Jayhawks have fielded since its current domination of the Big 12 began in 2005. The flaws are apparent, and they’re serious. They could easily be enough to sink the Jayhawks in an unforgiving conference.

It also could just be business as usual for Bill Self’s program

Tenth-ranked Kansas sputtered and struggled Monday night, but, ultimately, it didn’t matter as the Jayhawks stole a game at a rowdy WVU Coliseum, topping sixth-ranked West Virginia, 71-66, to keep its spot atop the Big 12 despite whatever issues bothered them against the Mountaineers and may persist well into the winter.

One of the major differences of this Kansas team from the 13 that preceded it is the Jayhawks can’t overwhelm with talent and athleticism. There’s no Andrew Wiggins, Josh Jackson, Thomas Robinson or any other surefire lottery pick to just go get buckets. There isn’t a host of high-level athletes that can help Kansas just run inferior teams off the floor. When you have two things, your margin of error gets padded. Mistakes aren’t magnified. They’re minimized. That’s not a luxury Kansas now enjoys.

Then there’s the issue of the roster. Even with Silvio De Sousa being declared eligible, Kansas is still incredibly thin and inexperienced up front. Udoka Azubuike is a load, but he’s the only big man that even inspires a bit of fear from opponents. If Billy Preston ever gets on the floor, maybe this becomes less of an issue for the Jayhawks, but it’s difficult to believe a true freshman making a whole host of difference this late in the season.

So for Kansas to win its 14th-straight Big 12 regular season championship, the Jayhawks are going to have to have to play a specific way. There’s not much wiggle room. They’ve got to defend. They’ve got to shoot 3s. They’ve got to be tough. They’ve got to be resilient.

That’s exactly what the Jayhawks were against Bob Huggins’ team Monday. If you can out-tough, out-hustle and out-work a Huggins team on their home floor, you’re on to something.

West Virginia led by as many as 16 in the first half. The Mountaineers had Kansas shook. Well Sagaba Konate did, at least. Eulogies were already being written for Kansas, especially as West Virginia’s lead stayed in double digits past the midway point of the second half.

West Virginia is designed to wear down opponents. The Mountaineers try to create a crucible, especially in Morgantown, that will force opponents to wilt. That’s supposed to be its most potent late in games.

That’s when Kansas thrived.

The Jayhawks outscored West Virginia 26-11 over the final 8 minutes. The Mountaineers were 5 of 14 (35.7 percent) from the floor with four turnovers during that stretch. Kansas, conversely, make 7 of 10 shots overall and 3 of 4 from 3-point range.

It wasn’t exactly rope-a-dope, but Kansas saved its best for last. They made winning plays. That’s really what’s going to have to separate them from the pack this season. As good as Devonte Graham is, as effective as Svi Mykhailiuk can be and as good as Self is, the Jayhawks are going to have to grind more than they’re accustomed to. 

The Big 12 is unmerciful this season. Texas Tech already has a win at Allen Fieldhouse, Trae Young has gone full supernova and even the league’s bottom tier looks like tough outs. Kansas faces a major test, and they’ll do so without a roster that compares to some of the powerhouses Self has assembled. The Jayhawks have often been able to win just by delivering broad strokes. They were bigger, faster, stronger and, simply, better. When they coupled that with a mastery of the finer points of the game, they dominated.

If The Streak is going to reach 14, it won’t be with that blueprint. The grittier parts of the game are going to have to come to the forefront. Outlasting West Virginia in Morgantown while shooting 44 percent and facing double-digit deficits would suggest the Jayhawks have the toughness and ability to make clutch plays that can paper over other issues.

Kansas isn’t going to overwhelm the Big 12 this year. They still very well could win it.