What Wake Forest fans can expect from their new coach (aka a primer on the Princeton offense)
Jeff Bzdelik is all set to take over the reigns at Wake Forest University this fall, coming over from Colorado where he lead the team to a 15-16 record last season. Bzdelik is known for running the Princeton offense, which has a negative connotation for many fans not familiar to the offense. This is because Pete Carril was known for slowing his offense down to snail-like paces when he popularized the offense. However, these days the offense has evolved a bit and should not be seen in such a negative view as a team can play an up tempo version of the offense.
Colorado, under the leadership of Bzdelik, averaged 69.2 possessions last season (good for 82nd in the nation) while running the Princeton offense. There is a difference between running the Princeton offense and using Princeton offense principles in your offense. The Princeton offense as it is commonly thought of is used by less athletic teams to slow the game down by using nearly all the shot clock. Princeton offense principles can be implemented into an offense and be effective while not playing at a slow pace and misusing the talent and athletes on your squad (what I like to call the Georgetown offense).
Now, I am not certain Bzdelik will implement the offense at Wake Forest. He will have athletes at his disposal he did not have at Air Force or Colorado the past 5 years. That said, I think he will at least establish these principles in the players so that he can use them at the right time (or the players can run them naturally in the flow of the game).
So let’s take a look at some snippets of the Princeton offense followed by a look at some of the defenses Bzdelik might run at Wake Forest.
The first thing that comes to mind with the Princeton offense is the back cut. The rule of thumb is that if the player with the ball dribbles at a wing player, an immediate back cut takes place. Let’s look at this in context:
Notice how the player at the top of the key makes a backcut toward the basket when the ball is dribbled toward him. Gonzaga defends it will on this possession but it is all part of the process for an offense. When you get into a good habit like that, you are going to eventually catch the defense napping.
Next, some action is run through the high post. This can be through either passing the ball to the high post and running action from there or having the post man set screens for the perimeter players.
In these videos, you first see a backcut toward the basket, followed by two screens set by the high post man. The first is a backscreen that the guard can use for a lob to the basket or to run baseline to the corner for a swing pass. The second is a pick and roll that hopes to take advantage of the screener’s man being occupied by the first action. Notice the similar actions at different areas of the court.
In the next video, you can see some options the team has when they get the ball to the high post. Once Colorado passes it to the high post, a back door cut is made toward the basket, the opposite guard fills the top of the key and the high post man passes off for a pick and roll opportunity.
Finally, the last staple of the Princeton offense is guards posting. This was started because Carril was convinced that since guards were not used to defending the post, a guard who could work in the post had a major competitive advantage.
Although the following video results in an offensive foul, it shows what the Princeton offense attempts to do: isolate the guard in the post.
So that’s the principles of the Princeton offense is a nutshell: continuous movements and cuts, high post action, backcuts and guards posting up. Again, it does not have to be a slow down offense. That is a common misconception that needs to be rectified.
If Bzdelik does indeed implement some of these principles at Wake Forest, fans should not worry that he is going to slow the team down and not take advantage of the athletes Wake has this year. It is simple to play the Princeton offense and modify it slightly to adjust to a high tempo team.
Princeton was known for a matchup zone because they were not able to stand up to better teams man to man. It is yet to be seen whether Bzdelik will add this D to Wake Forest but they did show it a bit last season (Disclaimer: the one game I had was early in the season when Bzdelik was away for personal reasons. That said, the fact that Colorado played this D showed they had practiced it and were planning on using it – Colorado fans, let me know if they did not play it much as the season wore on).
This 3-2 matchup is an active zone which would fit the athletes that Wake Forest has this season. It features the defenders moving to pressure the players and help increase their frustration from having to guard them on the defensive end to make a mistake on the offensive end. Guarding a team that constantly moves and cuts will wear their opponent out and can help cause more mistakes on offense.
In addition to the zone, Colorado also played a man to man defense (which Wake played almost extensively last season).
Again, the defense is meant to be active and to pressure the offensive players. It is set up to take advantage of the fact that the opposition is tired from chasing them on defense and hopes to force mistakes because of this. Most likely, Bzdelik will continue to play a mixture of the two defenses at Wake Forest.
Again, I am not positive on what offensive/defensive schemes Bzdelik is going to implement at Wake Forest. He will have better athletes and players than any of his other stops at the collegiate level. However, as iterated before, I would not be surprised at all to see him at least implement some of the Princeton principles into the offense. I plan on updating this as the season rolls on to see just what type of offense Bzdelik will run at Wake Forest.