In this week’s edition of Kis This, Sports Director Zach Kisfalusi analyzes the effectiveness of Northwestern’s Princeton offense and wonders if some changes are necessary for Northwestern to have future success.
Princeton or Northwestern that is the question
Generating offense has been a problem all season for this year’s edition of Wildcats. Is it the youth, the lack of a consistent inside presence, the lack of elite athleticism, or the fact that shots are just not falling from behind the arc? All these are components to it but the offensive scheme of Northwestern is supposed to neutralize the weaknesses with precise passing and cutting.
Anyone who has watched the Wildcats over the last 13 years can see a very distinct scheme known as the Princeton offense. Coach Bill Carmody implemented this style at a time when Northwestern was the laughing stock on the schedule of many teams in the late 90s and this revolutionary type of offense was going to improve the basketball team’s chances game in and game out. As we look back through his tenure, this has held true as the Cats have improved dramatically offensively and become respectable as an opponent with some good stretches.
The Princeton offense is based solely on the execution of team basketball with an emphasis on high post passing and outside shooting. This allows Northwestern to play without a traditional big and with a plethora of guards on the floor to space the perimeter. When running at full steam, Northwestern uses 25 to 30 seconds of the shot clock as they attempt to bore the other team to sleep in hopes of a backdoor cut and a layup. If nothing materializes out of the high post, an outside shot is sure to go up sometime soon after. This is a direct correlation to the change in the philosophy of basketball as the three point line continues to change the overall landscape of how offense is supposed to run at all levels of competition.
The success of this offense is evident when Northwestern has competed and won games against teams they had no right as they were outmatched on paper. The Cats have lulled the Buckeyes to sleep several times over the last few seasons, beaten a very good Spartans team last year, and upset an athletic Golden Gophers team this season. Setting the tempo at a methodical pace where every possession matters is the objectives of Coach Carmody to not only limit the other offense but to avoid a game with transition scoring.
Success is a relative term that can be adjusted by the eye of the beholder, and the same is true for the offense. If you look at the last few seasons, Northwestern has had some of their best seasons ever with multiple NIT appearances in a row, but with a second look, another scary thing pops up. Over the past few seasons, the conference record for the team has steadily declined despite the increase in talent and overall record. I believe that is the product of familiarity and lack of innovation. Many of the coaches of Big Ten have now picked up on the tendencies and principles of the Princeton offense and how to limit the effectiveness of it.
My question and concern is that the predictability of the scheme is limiting the development of the talent on the team and the size and post moves of Alex Olah. Now as much as I want to see a completely new offense, I know that is not realistic to see any time in the foreseeable future. With some tweaks in scheme like more low post action, some pick and roll, and more down screens, it is possible to see the Princeton offense become more effective and adapt to the changes of basketball over the last decade and a half.