Lights Out: Princeton Off to 0-2 Start
"I see the light bulb going on for our players," Princeton coach Joe Scott told the local newspaper, The Princeton Packet. "Obviously, when you get into our league it is much more difficult. And when you go on the road in our league it is difficult. ...For 13 straight games I'm pretty happy with the consistency of our effort."
And happy he should have been! His Princeton Tigers were comming into the conference season with a 9-4 record and leading the nation in scoring defense, holding opponents to 49.2 ppg. In a 51-28 victory over Rice, they held Morris Almond, the nation's top scorer, to nine points. Almond entered that game leading NCAA Division I with a 31.4 average and was coming off a 44-point effort against Vanderbilt. Princeton held Almond to 3-for-8 shooting and 1-for-5 from 3-point range. Almond averaged 18.4 field goal attempts and 10.6 free throw attempts, but had just two foul shots.
Coach Scott was right when he said going on the road in the Ivy league is difficult. He found that out when the Tigers traveled to Columbia for their Ivy League opener Friday night. A much improved Columbia team beat the Tigers 64-56. Mike Strittmatter and Lincoln Gunn led the Tigers with 13 points each. Columbia won consecutive games against Princeton for the first time since sweeping the Tigers in the 1992-93 season.
Saturday night, Princeton traveled to Cornell and dropped a 55-35 Ivy League game to the Big Red. Cornell's Ryan Wittman scored a game high 17 points and Zach Finley led the Tigers with 12 points. Princeton fell to 0-2 in Ivy League play for the first time since the 1983-84 season. Princeton (9-6, 0-2 Ivy) led 14-9 midway through the first half before Cornell (8-8, 1-1 Ivy) scored the next 18 points, holding Princeton without a field goal for eight minutes. Princeton made just three of its 24 three-point attempts and was out rebounded 32-16. Princeton's 35 points were its fewest in an Ivy League game since falling at Cornell 63-30 on the final game of the 1984-85 season. The loss was Princeton's biggest in Ivy League play since a 24-point defeat against Penn at Jadwin Gym in 2002.
It is admirable that coach Scott has the ability to motivate and teach his players to play great team defense. However, the object of the game is to put more points on the board than your opponent! Coach Scott insists on running the time consuming "Princeton Offense" a series of passing, back door cuts and constant motion. Then after wasting 25-30 seconds, players are then expected to get a good shot with little time remaining. I call this offense the "Prevent Offense" because it prevents Princeton from scoring. This is why they are scoring a dismal 53.9 ppg!
It makes no sense to kill that much time off the clock against Ivy opponents to get a good look at the hoop. Sure it worked prior to conference play because teams like Rice do not have the opportunity to scout and see Princeton as much as the Ivy teams. I hope coach Scott realizes that teams do scout their opponents! Instead of playing "stall ball" Scott should take advantage of his speedy dynamic-duo freshman guards, Lincoln Gunn and Marcus Schroeder along with his other good shooters and give them the freedom to push the ball up the court and when they have an open shot, let them take it regardless of the time on the clock.
I believe with an up-tempo style of the "Princeton Offense" that is not so "scoutable" by Ivy opponents, someone may just turn that light bulb on once again!!
- Steve Mergelsberg has spent twenty-five years coaching professionally in the Atlantic Basketball Association, United States Basketball League (USBL), on the college level and on the high school level in New Jersey and Nevada. He is a constant contributor to coaching journals, including articles on the triangle offense, coaching philosophies, and amoeba defenses.