Princeton Offense Guide - Part 1
Time to read 8 min
Written by: Chris Hungerford
Time to read 8 min
The Princeton Offense is the perfect offense for a team that excels at working together. When Coach Pete Carril was at Princeton University he developed this offense to focus on modern aspects of the game: creating space for shooters and utilizing post-play opportunities.
The basic foundation of this offensive system involves every player accurately cutting, screening, passing, and shooting; being able to do these four fundamentals would allow your team to execute the Princeton Offense at a high level. Essentially, each player should always be trying to help their teammate out. One key is having a center player that can be a double threat of scoring and passing out of the post position.
Carril’s offense is complex and requires many reads depending on what the defense does to guard you. In order to properly break down each segment, we’re going to do a four-part series focusing on the main points of understanding the Princeton Offense. In Part 1, we’re going to cover in detail the strengths and weaknesses of this offense, what type of team would be successful running this offense along with the basics of getting the offense set up and started.
From there, the other parts will take a deeper dive into the different variations of this offense and even provide you with drills to use. When you’re done reading this series, you should have a better understanding of the Princeton Offense and if it’s right for your team.
Who Might Use The Princeton Offense?
The Princeton offense is built for teams that have good shooters and fundamental basketball players, especially in the post. They don’t necessarily have to be athletic, but must be able to do the basics very well because the offense is looking to create scoring opportunities from executing fundamental offense principles.
A team successful with Carril’s offense must be able to read the defense and make offense moves accordingly. If each player can understand what they’re looking for out of their offense and are good decision makers then there’s going to be an open scoring opportunity every trip to the offensive end.
Princeton Offense Explained
Getting The Princeton Offense Set-Up
To run the Princeton Offense, you generally start with two top guards, two forward players on the wings, and one low post (center). Depending on your team, you can decide what type of players fill these positions.
For example, two guards up top, two forwards on the wings, and a center or two guards up top, a guard and forward on the wings, and a power forward in the low post. As long as the player can do the fundamentals of this offense, their position label isn’t as important.
Getting Into The Princeton Offense
The most common way to start this offense is with a pass from the top guard to the wing. With the top guard position, you want these two players to have the right spacing with the guard without the ball a step behind in case the guard can’t pass to the wing and has to swing the ball to the other side of the court.
Once the top guard passes to the wing, they will ball cut down the middle of the paint and go to the opposite corner. When the guard is cutting be sure they’re looking because their defender could take their eyes off them and they may be open for an open shot.
Essentially, every player is going to be moving with the pass. As the guard is cutting, the other top guard is inching into the middle of the court.
The wing with the ball will pass into the low post. With this pass, there are three reads for the wing to make:
Relocating to the corner and cutting for a return pass both should lead to a shot for the wing player. However, if they go and screen for the guard, there are five options off this screen:
2. After the screen, wing pops out and gets a return pass from the guard
3. The wing pops out and gets past from the low post
4. The guard is being overplayed and the back doors are off the screen for a pass
5. The guard goes back door and the forward pops out and gets the pass
Moving The Ball Cross Court
If none of these options are open then you should have an open teammate across the court. There are two ways to get the ball to the other side of the court - your center makes a cross-court pass out of the low post or your guard at the top swings the ball with a pass.
Low post passes to the wing on the other side. This should especially open, if their defender is trying to help on another player.
Low post passes to the corner. This is another situation where your teammate should be open if their player is helping on defense.
The top guard swings the ball to the other wing. By swinging the ball, the wing on the other side should have options:
Option #1: Open shot or drive the ball and pass to the corner of the defense helps
Option #2: Swing the ball back for a dribble hand-off
If the ball is swung to the other side of the court by a pass from guard, the passer goes down to screen for the center, or low post player. This screen moves the center to the top spot where they will receive a pass and then dribble towards the corner guard who should be coming towards them for a dribble hand-off. The center gives them the ball and they come off looking for a shot. - Minute Marker
No shot coming off the hand-off? The center rolls down back to the low post - make sure your guard gets out to the corner so there’s not more than one player down in the post. Then swing the ball to the corner for a pass entry into the low post.
Option #3: Go backdoor if the swing pass is being denied
If the forward-going back door isn’t open, the corner player should move up for the pass. The forward stays on the block to post up looking for an entry pass from the wing.
Since the forward stays to post up you have to make sure there’s no one else down low. This shouldn’t be an issue because when the ball goes to the other side of the court your passer always screens for the center.
There’s so much to learn about the Princeton Offense that it’s impossible to do in one article which is why we are doing a four-part series solely focused on this complex offense!
If you want to learn more about developing this offense, continue reading the rest of our series, and be sure to check out Pete Carril’s Princeton Offense 2-disc DVD set. It goes into incredible detail with excellent demonstrations to help you instruct your players on the court and make your game plan according to your team.
The Princeton Offense is a pass, cut, screen, shoot offense. It is a very fundamental, read & react offense. This gives players the ability to play together and create points for each other. The positions you start in are two guards at the top, two forwards on the wings, and a center on the low post.
To watch the movement of the guards and positions click here.
The positions of the Princeton Offense start out with two guards at the top, two forwards on the wings, and a center on the low post. It starts with a pass to the wing and the guard who passed cuts through the middle of the paint, filling the opposite corner. The wing with the ball is then going to pass to the low post giving them 3 different options:
To see possible outcomes and secondary movements in the offense click here.
The advantages to the Princeton Offense are:
Watch the most successful team execute the Princeton Offense here.
This Offense is made for teams that have great outside shooters and fundamental players in the post. A team with high basketball IQ that can read and react to defense can execute this offense creating points. Learn more about the in-depth fundamentals and rules to succesfully running this offense in the Princeton Offense DVD's.
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