The Princeton offense is an offensivebasketball 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, and Bernard “Red” Sarachek, who coached at Yeshiva University from 1938 to 1977.
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 isolate and exploit a mismatch using these skills. Positions become less important and on offense there is no point guard, shooting guard, small forward or power forward. However, there are certain rules that players running this offense are expected to follow.
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.