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Cause 32 turnovers a game with Dave Arseneault's Grinnell Defensive System

Grinnell College Basketball Defense

Grinnell College has been known as an offensive powerhouse, but their defense deserves much credit because that’s where it all starts. Dave Arseneault coaches the men’s basketball team at Grinnell College which is a Division III college located in Grinnell, Iowa. Arseneault created the scoring machine it is today, but he knows that they don’t score as many points if it isn’t for their high pressure defense.

The goal of the Grinnell defensive is to force their opponent into 32 turnovers in a single game. In order to make this happen, Grinnell starts with the full-court press and applies intense ball pressure at every position. Their wings try to force the ball up the sideline without allowing a return pass to any teammates especially the inbounder or a pass to the middle of the court.

Arseneault’s motto with defense is they are happy with the possession if they have a good chance to get a steal within the first twelve seconds. They don’t want to allow the other team to hold the ball for the full length of the shot clock because that slows down their entire game plan.

Below we’ll cover in detail the strengths and weaknesses of this full-court pressure defense, rules, and more. When you’re done reading this article, you should have a better understanding of this defense and if it’s right for your team.


Strengths of the Grinnell Defense

  • Increases the pace of the game - This defense is high tempo with Grinnell wanting to get a steal within 12 seconds of a possession. In order to get 32 turnovers a game, they have to keep the speed of the game at a high level.
  • Your team will be in elite shape - By running this fast-paced defense, it will easily increase your team’s conditioning to an elite level. They will be able to handle the fast tempo not only for their defense, but for offense as well. Grinnell is one of the highest scoring teams in college basketball and it all starts on the defensive end for them.
  • Team effort - Typically, Arseneault will have 4-6 groups that he uses with various player combinations. Every two minutes, he will substitute five new players which allows his team to always be fresh on the court. This type of game plan allows many players to get playing time with no one playing the entire game.
  • Team can’t prepare for this type of offense - This defense can be difficult to figure out for offenses because it’s essentially a bunch of reads without any predetermined set rules. For some teams, that can be hard to prepare for and even harder to break during the game.

Weaknesses of the Grinnell Defense

  • Giving up easy points - If the offense does break this press it could be because Grinnell gave up an easy bucket. They don’t want the offense to stall the game so they may let a shot go simply for the fact they want the ball back to go down on the other end. They play defense hard because they want to lead to their offense, however if they haven’t been able to get a stop they might give up an easy two-point shot so they can go down to the other end a shoot a three.
  • Unnecessary fouling - Because this is a intense pressure defense it could lead to silly fouls that gives your opponent the edge. It shouldn’t put any single player in foul trouble since there’s constant substitutions, but it’s important that your team doesn’t foul while they apply ball pressure and go for steals. Fouls lead to game stoppage and that’s the opposite of what Arseneault wants in terms of game tempo.
  • Difficult to learn - The Grinnell Defense doesn’t involve any sets or plays because it revolves around a defense that requires reading your opponent. This can be hard to understand at first because it takes time for players to learn what to do on certain reads. With more experience and playing time (which players will get plenty of in this defense), this defense becomes easier.


Who Might Use the Grinnell Defense?

This defense is built for a smart, quick team that can move up and down the court at a fast pace. Grinnell is looking for good decision makers that can get after it on defense with intense ball pressure.

Since there’s constant substitutions, the bench players are just as important as the players who start the game. If you don’t have any strong players after your starting five then the Grinnell Defense may not be the best option.


Defensive Press Defense

Grinnell’s defense is all out the entire game. They will pressure from start to finish; in the full-court and even after the other team has moved the ball into its half court. They want to get a steal within the first seven seconds of the defensive possession. In order to get a steal, every position has to make the right move and the defense as a whole has to know what sort of offense they’re going against.


Basic Concepts

  • Man on Ball - defense starts with the player guarding the inbounder. This defenders must apply intense ball pressure and use different non-rhythmic jumps to distract the offense. A non-rhythmic jump could be doing jumping jacks instead of jumping up and down. The man on ball’s job is to force the inbounder to pass the ball to the outer third of the basketball court, or towards the sideline preferably ball side.

  • Wing Players - these positions are responsible for forcing the offense to the outer third of the court as well. Wing players need to make this happen without allowing the offense to catch and dribble up the sidelines. In other words, force the offense to the sideline and be able to still contain them defensively. Once the ball is inbounds, the defender on ball has to apply intense ball pressure while the trap is coming. Ball pressure is key to this press because you don’t want to allow the offense to read the court.

  • Trapper - After the inbounds pass, the trapper (man on ball) then comes to trap with the wing player on ball side. Their job is to take away an advance pass to the middle.

As this happens, the opposite wing player comes to take away a return pass to the inbounder.

  • Interceptors - Finally, the interceptors in the back are communicating and making reads based on what is happening on the inbounds pass. Essentially, they’re reading the passer and defending players on both the sideline and the middle. The important concept for interceptors is to not deny anyone the basketball; you


Going Against Different Offensive Looks

  • Vs point guard inbounding - On ball defender delays 1 thousand 1 before trapping allowing opposite wing to deny return pass to point guard.

  • Vs 1-4 set - Defender responsibilities may change depending on where the inbounds pass is entered. For example, if a big player comes up to catch the inbounds pass the interceptor comes with them and becomes the wing - and the wing on that ball side moves back to become the interceptor. The one position that doesn’t change is the man on ball. 

  • Vs 1-3-1 set - Interceptor steps up to deny with two wings and the safety remains deep.

  • Vs player beating you individually - Face guard in full and half-court or in other words do not let that player touch it at all.

  • Defense in the front court - The mindset of Grinnell doesn’t change once the ball crosses half court - they are still pressuring and looking to get a steal or turnover.


Learn More

There’s a lot that goes into the Grinnell Defense that you almost need to see it for yourself. The best way to do that is to check out Dave Arseneault’s Forcing Tempo: Grinnell Defensive System DVD. In this DVD, Arseneault goes into great detail about their defense and what each player’s role is and how they defend against certain offenses. There are excellent demonstrations to help you instruct your players on the court and make your game plan according to your team.

Feb 23, 2018 Coach Chris

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