Men’s basketball preview: offense a bright spot amid slow start before conference play


Evan Hein

Andre Wright `25, number 23 and a guard on the Grinnell men’s basketball team, pictured playing in a scrimmage on Oct. 26.

Isaiah Gutman, Sports Editor

The Grinnell men’s basketball team started their season 1-3 after consecutive home losses to North Park University and Wartburg College. Despite their record, the team has plenty to be optimistic about. Last week’s article recapped the team’s previous season and previewed the team’s defense. This article will cover the offensive end and highlight several players who have stood out in the early going. 

First, a brief note on statistics. This article uses numbers from the first four games of the team’s season, but I want to caution against reading too far into any trends they indicate. For one, all four games have been out-of-conference games against teams with a wide range of competence. It would be difficult to take strong conclusions from four in-conference games, let alone a small sample size that is even less representative of the type of teams Grinnell will face for the rest of their season. All that said, we can only work with the available information. My analysis will take the early season’s statistics into account, but I also rely on my observations from the team’s home games to supplement the numbers. 

The most worrying trends for the team should be their free-throw and turnover differentials. In recent years, the team has succeeded when they have taken more free throws than their opponents, cresting with 2.5 more attempts per game in both 2018-19 and 2017-18, two winning seasons. So far, the team stands at a disadvantage of 10.5 free-throw attempts per game, which resembles their -8.6 differential in Grinnell’s disappointing 2015-16 season (the team won nine of their 23 contests that year and finished 6-12 in conference play). 

The story is similar to the team’s turnovers. As discussed in last week’s preview, the team’s historical success with The System has relied on forcing far more turnovers than their opponents and turning those giveaways into points at a high rate. This season, the team has only forced 5.5 more turnovers than their opponents — that number would be by far the lowest since 2011-12 if it holds. The team’s turnover differential had not been lower than an advantage of nine in that period. Again, it is early in the season, and there is no reason to think these numbers will hold. While shaky defense appears to be driving the 35.5 free throws per game taken by Grinnell’s opponents, it is the offense that may be more responsible for their turnover struggles, likely due to the team’s gap at point guard. 

Going into the season, the team knew they would have big shoes to fill on the offense, especially when it comes to ball handling. Last year, guard Patrick Simms `22 had an outstanding season, leading the team in minutes, points, assists, field goals, 3-point and free throw attempts. Simms took on a huge role in the offense and excelled, shooting at high efficiency from every part of the floor. He was named to the Midwest Conference’s First Team for his performance in leading the team to the conference tournament. Valuable ball handling guard Morgan Walser `22 graduated as well. So far, Zach Rosen `26 has proven himself as the team’s most promising point guard with 17 assists in four games. Rosen has looked confident handling the ball, shooting off the dribble and managing the team’s offense when he’s been on the floor. In other shifts, the team has yet to establish clear on-court leaders who can keep the team on target offensively. 

Despite the team’s slow start overall, their offensive numbers have looked very similar to past years. The team has gotten up a healthy amount of 3-point shots and has hit a respectable 33.9% of them. Their 41.2% mark on field goals is also higher than last year’s number of 40.4%. Along with Rosen, Adam Phillips `23 and Dillon Gestring `25 have driven the team’s offensive success. Phillips has kept up his eye-popping 3-point shooting from last season. After four games, he has shot 45.3% from the 3-point line with 16 shots per game, accounting for nearly all of his 24.8 points per game. Gestring has scored 15.3 points per game with an approach that is nearly the complete opposite of Phillips’. He has shot 58% on 2-point shots to complement 54.5% shooting on nearly three 3-point shots a game. In his season debut, Aiden Gilbert `23 went 6-8 from the field, scoring 12 points. The team will likely rely heavily on Phillips, Gestring and Gilbert going forward to spearhead the offense. 

No matter the game results, this team looks cohesive in practices and games so far. Mazlish `23 and Jackson Leone `25 both spoke highly of the team’s first-year crop, and both were confident that the young team will grow quickly as they gain more experience with the team’s style of play. Already, Rosen, Sean Walser and Sean Murphy, all `26, have played more than 10 minutes per game. When I asked Coach David Arseneault Jr. about his expectations for the team in replacing their big contributors who have graduated, he was confident in his young players. “I think we got some really, really quality and capable guys that can fill the void … I’m excited to see what they can do.”

The men’s basketball team will continue their season at home against Kenyon College on Nov. 21 at 6 p.m. in Darby Gymnasium. Their first conference game at home will be on Nov. 29 at 7:30 p.m. against Knox College.