7 Basic Actions of the Princeton Offense

By Dr. James Gels, From the Coach’s Clipboard Basketball Playbook
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As I had mentioned before, writing an article about the Princeton offense is not easy as there is no set "pattern" to the offense. Instead, it's a way of playing offense using certain principles or actions that require offensive players to read the defense. Except for the 5 man, it is a position-less offense with the four perimeter players interchangeable. This article presents seven basic actions which form the foundation of the Princeton offense. There are many options off each action based on reading the defenders.

This information comes from Quinn McDowell who played the Princeton offense for four years at the College of William and Mary, where he was a prolific scorer and outstanding 3-point shooter. After college, Quinn played professionally in Europe for four years, and now coaches at Lehigh University.

Coach Quinn McDowell

Quinn has an excellent new online program, "Mastering the Princeton Offense". Any coach serious about the Princeton offense should sign up for this course. It includes a 47 page pdf that details and diagrams all the actions, quick hitters, drills, terminology, etc. There are many video clips including whiteboard discussions with Coach McDowell, and game video clips - film study - of teams running the offense.

As an added free bonus, there is a library of pdf articles with topics such as "Ball Screen Continuity", "The Purpose Driven Leader", "Build Your Own Basketball Workout", "Personal Development Toolbox", "5 Secrets of All Great NBA Shooters", "Pro Style Offensive Sets", and more.

Mastering the Princeton Offense

Here are the seven basic Princeton offense actions. With each action, there are many options based of reading the defense. Drills for each action are used to make the reads more automatic.

Rod 1 Action

Rod 1 action occurs when two perimeter players screen for each other ("cluster screen") towards the corners when the ball is on the strong side elbow. The Rod 1 attack points are toward the corners on either side. This is one of the more common actions of the offense. Many different actions come before and after this, but the primary reads from the 5 man are: looking pass to the bottom cutter or pass and follow screen.

Princeton offense Rod 1 action

Rod 2 Action

Rod 2 action occurs when two perimeter players screen for each other on the opposite elbow from where the ball is located. The Rod 2 attack points are either weakside elbow. Many actions come before and after this. The the primary reads from the 5 man are: looking to pass to the bottom cutter or pass and follow screen.

Princeton offense Rod 2 action

REEL Action

A REEL action occurs when the player with the ball up top dribbles away from the 5 man and towards the player on the wing. There are a few different options out of this alignment, but the primary option is for the wing player to go backdoor and the 5 man to set a flare screen for the passer.

The diagram shows the dribble from the top toward the wing player, who backcuts to STAB in the post, as O4 fills up from the corner.

Princeton offense REEL action

Wedge Action

A wedge action is when the 5 man comes to the top and dribbles to a handoff with the man from the corner, while at the same time another guard sets a screen on the defender.

The attack point is the middle of the floor. In this action, the first option is for O1 to come off a handoff from O5 and turn the corner down the lane.

You might wonder why O1 is in the corner. Remember that the Princeton offense is a position-less offense with all four perimeter players interchangeable. O1 may have gotten there after a Rod 1 action.

Princeton offense Wedge action

Chest Action

A chest action occurs when the 5 man catches the ball at the elbow, with perimeter players on the wing and in the corner. Those two perimeter players have many different action options, but ultimately their goal is to use the 5 man at the elbow for a DHO (dribble handoff) or a pass and follow screen.

The diagram shows the chest action with three players on one side of the floor. The attack points are either (1) towards the baseline with the two guards screening for each other in a cluster action, or (2) with a guard and the 5 man at the elbow. This could occur on either side of the court.

Princeton offense Chest action

Chin Action

The basic alignment for Chin action is four perimeter players spaced in the corners and up top with the 5 man screening towards the top of the key. Usually the 5 man will set a series of back screens and flare screens to initiate the action.

The diagram shows an attack point option of hitting the cutter off a UCLA screen.

Also see Pete Carril's Chin Series.

Princeton offense Chin action

5-Out Action

5-out action starts with the 5 man in the center of the floor and 4 players spaced on the wings and in the corners. There are a number of actions that trigger various cuts and screens, but the action is initiated with an O5 dribble at the player on the wing.

The ball always starts centered in the middle of the floor when O5 has the ball at the top of the key.

Princeton offense 5-Out action

Final Comments

These are the basic seven actions that form the foundation of the Princeton offense. Many reads and options are available. Additionally, you can add any number of quick hitter plays that you might want to call out of a time-out, after a free-throw, or some other special situation.

To fully understand and implement the Princeton offense, sign up for Quinn McDowell's "Mastering the Princeton Offense".

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