|Tuesday, March 4
Reading (the defense) is fundamental
By Fran Fraschilla
Special to ESPN.com
Pete Carril's last win as the coach at Princeton, a stunning upset over UCLA in the first round of the 1996 NCAA Tournament, will always be remembered for its final play: the "trademark" back-door layup.
Although the Yoda of college basketball has spent the last six years in relative obscurity as an assistant coach and consultant for the Sacremento Kings, his legacy continues to live on in the college and NBA game. Just look at teams like Princeton, North Carolina State, Northwestern, Air Force, Samford and the New Jersey Nets. Each employs Carril's system of offense with a good deal of success.
With a premium placed on passing, cutting and intelligent movement without the basketball, the offense is the epitome of what good team basketball should look like. There is an understanding that offense is a series of two- and three-man plays and that all five players cannot compete for the ball but, rather, share it.
We will cover, in the next two Basketball 101 "classes", the Princeton Offense, in two parts: the Low Post offense and the High post offense. Pay attention and don't turn your head or you'll get "back doored".
Part I: The Low Post Offense
Find the Center:The offensive thinking in the Princeton system is for the ball to go through the center so that he can be the playmaker. So, in both transition or in a half-court set the important thing is to "find the center" or the 5 man.
Alignment: The offense starts in a 2-2-1 alignment with the center (5) on the ball side. It is important to determine the places on the court from which your perimeter players can best drive to the middle. It really helps if all of those players can dribble and pass from both sides of the court.
First cut: The 1 passes to 3 on the wing and cuts through to the opposite corner. Every single cut in the offense must be made at full speed and with authority. The 2 then fills in at the top of the key.
First Back Door: If 5 is fronted in the low post and the offense cannot be started through him, 3 dribbles hard at the elbow. If 2's man "tightens up" to overplay the pass to 2 or turns his head to look at the ball, 2 back doors hard to the basket. The 3 is taught make his bounce with one hand off the dribble -- it's a quicker pass than picking the ball up with two hands -- right off 2's defender's butt.
Post Feed: The 3 feeds 5 in the low post and drifts to the corner for the possible open 3-point shot if his man leaves to double team. If 3's man doesn't double team 5, the spacing on the perimeter is ideal for 5 to go 1-on-1.
The Next Look
Another Back Door Cut: After 5 catches the ball, 2 cuts through to the opposite corner as 4 fills in at top of key and 1 replaces 4. If 4's man looks for ball or tries to overplay 4, 4 back-door cuts to the basket looking for a bounce pass from 5. This is why it is crucial that the 5 is an excellent passer.
Slip Split: Another option in the offense when 5 has the ball is for 2 to screen away for 4. The 4 must always watch his defender. If the defender starts to cheat over 2's screen, 4 back-door cuts to basket and receives bounce pass from 5.
Pass Out and Dribble At: When the ball is passed out of the low post -- in this case to 2 -- 2 dribbles hard at the next player on the perimeter, the 4. Again, when 4's man turns his head, 4 back-door cuts to basket and looks for a 1-hand bounce pass from 2.
If 4 is not open, 1 replaces 4 and receives the pass from 2. The 4 posts up and 5 comes up to set the "flare screen'" for 2, who gets jump shot on pass from 1.
Another Pass Out and Dribble At: When 5 passes out of low post to 3, remember 2 has cut through and 4 starts to replace him at the top of the key. The 3 dribbles hard at the elbow and sets up back-door cut by 4. The 1 replaces 4 and, if 3 throws it to 1, 5 will "flare screen" for 3 for a jump shot.
Term of the Day
Send in your Hoops 101 questions. Fran Fraschilla will answer a few each week as the season continues.
My friend and I were discussing N.C. State's offense the other day. We always hear the announcers talk about State's Princeton offense, but my friend completely disagrees with the ascertation and believes that the team is running something completely different. I believe it's just a minor permutation of the Princeton offense. Do you have any clue exactly what the Wolfpack runs when it is on the court?
The Wolfpack runs a "speeded up" version of the offense and won't hesitate to look for the fastbreak first. They also take advantage of a post man like Marcus Melvin who can stretch defenses with his ability to handle the ball, pass it and shoot the 3-point shot. In addition, Julius Hodge is a guard who is versatile enough to post up, in addition to his terrific perimeter skills. And, remember, their best player suited for this offense, Ilian Evtimov, has missed this entire season with a knee injury.
In my mind, the team that runs the "Princeton Offense" the best is Air Force. Coach Joe Scott was Pete Carril's point guard at Princeton. His team is very disciplined -- one would hope so -- and their execution is outstanding. Their cuts are "authentic" in that every cut is at game speed. While their success has been moderate, they compete in a very tough Mountain West Conference and drive opponents crazy.
"I need to find out more about the 'T-Game' offense used by former UNC coach Dean Smith. If you can explain it on one of your Hoops 101 sessions or point me in the right direction, that would be helpful."
Coach Smith's book, "Basketball, Multiple Offense and Defense" is still available in bookstores or online, and has a chapter on the "T Game", as well as other aspects of his coaching philosophy, including the "Motion Offense", the "Four Corners" offense and the "Run and Jump" defense.
I would, however, spend 75 percent of my time, offensively, working on "skill development". The fundamentals of the game are like the "cement foundation" of a house. If skills are developed at that age, the need for complex offense is less necessary. In fact, the reason Duke and Arizona are so successful every year is because they can recruit --and develop -- skilled offensive players. Their offensive schemes are very simple by design.
So, pour the majority of your time into the basics and a basic "Motion" offense with a couple of rules.
The most important aspect of "pick and roll" is utilizing the the strength of the player using the screen, as well as using the strength of the screener. For example, if the screener can shoot the jumper, he "pops" out and, if not, he "rolls" hard to get to the basket.
"Pick and roll" offense should be practiced in individual "skill development" work. Guards should know how to change speeds with the dribble, make shots off the screen, and "read" the defense. Screeners should work on the the execution of proper screens, screening angles, and whether to "pop" or "roll".
The most important aspect of the pick-and-roll is utilizing the the strength of the player using the screen, as well as using the strength of the screener. For example, if the screener can shoot the jumper, he "pops" out, and if not, he "rolls" hard to get to the basket.
Pick-and-roll offense should be practiced in individual "skill development" work. Guards should know how to change speeds with the dribble, make shots off the screen, and "read" the defense. Screeners should work on the the execution of proper screens, screening angles, and whether to "pop" or "roll".
"I had a hard time getting my team to move the ball and also themselves when we go up against a zone defense. They can run a set play until it runs out, then they just stand around. Is there a continuous play like the flex that I can run against a zone? Also could you elaborate on your zone offense philosophy."
Continuity zone offense like Dr. Tom Davis' "Four Game" are not as common in college as they used to be because of the 35-second shot clock. Once you've reversed the ball four or five times, the shot clock has wound down. I think, however, they still have a place in the high school game.
I like the idea of attacking zones with set plays. Each zone has "soft spots" and if we can get the ball there via a "set", we'll take it. Then, we flow into a "motion offense" and, finally, an "end of shot clock" play to get a shot. I saw a lot of ball screens vs. the zone late in the shot clock in the World Championships last August.
By the way, you can still get Dr. Tom's videotapes online. Just do a Google search and you should be able to track it down, as well as other tapes.
Fran Fraschilla spent 23 years on the sidelines as a college basketball coach before joining ESPN this season as an broadcast analyst. He guided both Manhattan (1993, 1995) and St. John's (1998) to the NCAA Tournament in his nine seasons as a Division I head coach, leaving New Mexico following the end of the 2001-02 season.