Princeton Offense
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Princeton Offense

The Princeton offense is an offensive basketball strategy which emphasizes constant motion, back-door cuts, picks on and off the ball, and disciplined teamwork. It was used and perfected at Princeton University by Pete Carril, though its roots may be traced back to Franklin "Cappy" Cappon, who coached Princeton in the late 1930s[1] and Bernard "Red" Sarachek, who coached at Yeshiva University from 1938 to 1977.[2]


The offense is designed for a unit of five players who can each pass, shoot, and dribble at an above-average level. These players hope to exploit a mismatch in which the offense can exploit. It attempts to isolate and exploit a mismatch using these skills.[3] Positions become less important and on offense there is no point guard, shooting guard, small forward or power forward.[4] However, there are certain rules that players running this offense are expected to follow.[5]

The offense usually starts out with four players outside the three-point arc with one player at the top of the key. The ball is kept in constant motion through passing until either a mismatch allows a player to cut to the basket or a player without the ball cuts toward the unoccupied area under and around the basket, and is passed the ball for a layup. The post player is a very important player in the offense. He sets up in the high post and draws attention to his positioning. When the ball is received in to the post the players main objective is to find back door cutters or defenders who have fallen asleep on the weak side.

The hallmark of the offense is the backdoor pass, where a player on the wing suddenly moves in towards the basket, receives a bounce pass from a guard on the perimeter, and (if done correctly) finds himself with no defenders between him and a layup. Alternatively, when the defensive team attempts to pack the paint to prevent backdoor cuts, the offense utilizes three point shots from the perimeter. All five players in the offense--including the center--should be competent at making a three-point attempt, further spreading the floor, and not allowing the defense to leave any player unattended.

The offense is often a very slowly developing one, relying on a high number of passes, and is often used in college basketball by teams facing opponents with superior athletic talent in order to maintain a low-scoring game (believing that a high-scoring game would favor the athletically superior opponent). As a result, Princeton has led the nation in scoring defense 19 times including in every year from 1989 to 2000.[6]

Use at Princeton

During his tenure as head coach of Princeton (1967-1996), Pete Carril compiled a 514-261 record, a .658 winning percentage. His teams won 13 Ivy League championships during his 29-year tenure with the Tigers, and received 11 NCAA Tournament bids and two National Invitation Tournament berths. Princeton captured the NIT title in 1975. Perhaps Carril's greatest win was his final upset victory on a backdoor cut to give Princeton the win 43 - 41 over the 1995 defending NCAA champion UCLA. The win extended Coach Carril's retirement by one game and is ranked as one of the best NCAA upsets of all time. Former Princeton coach Sydney Johnson and his predecessors Bill Carmody, John Thompson III, and Joe Scott have all employed the Princeton offense.[3]

Other examples of use

National Basketball Association

After his retirement from Princeton in 1996, Pete Carril served as an assistant coach for the National Basketball Association's Sacramento Kings until 2006. During his time with Sacramento, Carril helped Rick Adelman, who became the Kings' head coach in 1998, implement the Princeton offense. Carril returned to the Kings during the 2008-2009 season as a consultant.

The Cleveland Cavaliers, Los Angeles Lakers, New Orleans Hornets, New Jersey Nets, and Washington Wizards also have run versions of the Princeton offense.[7] in the National Basketball Association. Rick Adelman introduced a modified version of Pete Carril's system to the Houston Rockets during the 2007-2008 season.[8] Coach Alvin Gentry also implemented an altered version of it that shows similarities to the triangle offense during the Phoenix Suns?s 2012-13 season. Eddie Jordan implemented the Princeton offense as coach of the Washington Wizards from 2003 to 2008) and of the Philadelphia 76ers from 2009 to 2010.

College basketball

NCAA Division I

Besides Princeton, some of the NCAA Division I college basketball teams best known for using the offense are:

NCAA Division II

NCAA Division II colleges that have used the Princeton offense include:

NCAA Division III

NCAA Division III colleges that have used the Princeton offense include:


NAIA colleges that have used the Princeton offense include:

High schools

High school basketball teams that have used the Princeton offense include:

  • Northridge High School (Johnstown, OH) 2008-2012 under John Wheeler
  • Oak Forest High School (Oak Forest, IL) 2008-2020 under Matt Manzke


United States


Amateur Athletic Union, Youth Basketball of America, and United States Basketball Association teams that have used the Princeton offense include:



  1. ^ "Cappon SHeart Attack: 'Cappy' Dies After Practice At Princeton". Holland Evening Sentinel. 1961-11-30.
  2. ^ "Red Sarachek Dies At 93, November 16, 2005". MacsLive. Archived from the original on September 5, 2012. Retrieved 2010.
  3. ^ a b Plutnicki, Ken (2009-02-10). "The Quad Q.& A.: Princeton Coach Sydney Johnson". The New York Times. Retrieved .
  4. ^ Wallace, William N. (1995-02-25). "Carril Demands Versatility". The New York Times. Retrieved .
  5. ^ DeForest, Lee (2016-12-11). "11 Princeton Offense Rules". Basketball Insight. Retrieved .
  6. ^ "Division I Records" (PDF). National Collegiate Athletic Association. p. 48. Retrieved .
  7. ^ Shelburne, Ramona (November 2, 2012). "Kobe stresses patience with offense". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on November 2, 2012.
  8. ^ Feigen, Jonathan (October 7, 2007). "Rockets wowed by Adelman's offense". Houston Chronicle. Retrieved 2012.


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