What Is The Princeton Offense In Basketball?

The Princeton Offense is a teamwork-oriented style of offense that emphasizes constant movement, backdoor cuts, and on and off-ball screens. Read on to learn more about this style of offense and when to use it.

What Is the Princeton Offense?

The Princeton Offense is a smooth-running system that allows teams to react and adjust according to the defense they are going up against. It works by combining ball movement, pass and cuts, dribble handoffs, and screens.

How Does the Princeton Offense Work?

The Princeton offense works by focusing on four core philosophies, which are explained below:

Ball Movement

Frequently swinging the ball from one side of the court to the other and spacing your guards and wings around the perimeter requires the defense to constantly be moving, which tires them out. This movement can also force the defense to run a zone that rotates to the strong side, which can make the weak side vulnerable to a cut to the basket or an open three from the opposite corner.

Pass and Cut

The Princeton Offense forms after a series of movements allows the point guard (PG) to get the ball to the high post player at the top of the key. The PG will then cut to the basket and likely have an open layup. The PG can also start this play by bounce passing it to a wing player and then cutting to the basket. A back screen can also be used to help run the play successfully.

Dribble Handoff

If your opponent is playing an aggressive style of man-to-man defense, the ball handler can perform a dribble handoff. In this scenario, the ball handler will dribble towards a wing player and then hand them the ball outside their defender’s reach. The player who handed the ball off can then set down a screen for the wing player to help them get around the defense.


The Princeton Offense involves setting different types of screens to give players open driving lanes or jump shots. The player in the high post can come to the top of the key and set a flare screen or set up a pick-and-roll with the guard handling the ball. The ball handler can use the space created by the screen to pass it back to the player rolling to the basket, find open shooters, or attack the basket.

When to Run the Princeton Offense

The Princeton Offense should be used when:

  1. Your big men are good passers.
  2. Your perimeter players have similar skill sets.
  3. Your opponent plays aggressive defense.
  4. You have lights-out three-point shooters.
  5. You are less athletic than your opponent but more skilled than them.
  6. You have a big man who can set screens and knock down open jump shots.
  7. You have a skilled playmaker in the spread pick-and-roll.

Benefits of the Princeton Offense

In this system, the center operates from the elbows and top of the key. If your big has the ability to set up their teammates, your team will get open looks from a distance and at the rim. If the opposition is overplaying passing lanes and denying catches on the perimeter, the Princeton Offense creates space that will make your opponent reconsider their defensive scheme.

Having interchangeable perimeter players is a huge benefit in the Princeton Offense, as every substitution won’t cause you to fit a new piece into the puzzle. The Princeton Offense will also benefit your team if you have elite passing and off-ball movement. As a result, this system creates a lot of open threes, but it won’t matter if you can’t cash in.

A common tactic to slow down the Princeton Offense is to have the center’s defender clog the paint, but that won’t be a problem if you force him to guard the perimeter.  Elite playmakers can also tear up an opposing defense that is poor at guarding the help-side in pick-and-roll coverage.

History of the Princeton Offense

The origin of the Princeton Offense may stem back to Franklin “Cappy” Cappon, the basketball coach at Princeton in the late 1930s, or Bernard “Red” Sarachek, who was Yeshiva University’s coach from 1938 to 1977. However, the head coach who mastered the system and made it well-known was the legendary Pete Carril, who coached at Princeton from 1967 to 1996. During his tenure with the Tigers, Carril accumulated a record of 514-261, 13 Ivy League Championships, 11 March Madness and two National Invitation Tournament (NIT) appearances. Princeton even won the NIT in 1975.

Sydney Johnson, a successor of Carril at Princeton, implemented the system during his tenure as head coach. The Air Force Academy, Georgetown, and Holy Cross also ran the Princeton Offense under head coaches who either formerly played under or were influenced by Carril.

After he retired from Princeton in 1996, Carril brought his system to the NBA. He worked as an assistant coach for the Sacramento Kings and helped Head Coach Rick Adelman implement the Princeton Offense. The Cleveland Cavaliers, Los Angeles Lakers, New Orleans Hornets, New Jersey Nets, and Washington Wizards all ran versions of this system as well.


What is the Princeton Offense?

The Princeton Offense is a fluid style of offense that emphasizes constant movement, screens, and backdoor cuts. Though this can take a variety of forms and shift in relation to the makeup of the team on defense, the Princeton Offense always aims to catch opposing players off guard and use several simultaneous moves to create gaps that will then turn into scoring opportunities.

How does the Princeton Offense work?

The Princeton Offense works by keeping the players and the ball in constant motion while setting screens and creating looks. The main principles of the Princeton Offense are ball movement, passing and cutting, performing dribble handoffs, and setting screens. The Princeton Offense rewards strong passers and shooters by creating scoring opportunities through fluid motion and high-speed passing.