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How Rutgers basketball will attack Maryland with a Princeton offense

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What to expect from the Scarlet Knights on Wednesday.

Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

When Maryland tips off against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights, the Terps will encounter an offense that they have already faced. Rutgers' coach Eddie Jordan incorporates a lot of Princeton-style offensive principles into his halfcourt sets, which could bode well for the Terps, considering their 82-61 win vs. the Princeton Tigers in Baltimore a few weeks ago.

Jordan's teaching of the Princeton offense originates with his first NBA gig, which came as an assistant coach with the Sacramento Kings. Jordan was in Sacramento during the mid-90s, and eventually took over as head coach for little more than a season from 1997-1998. This coincides with Pete Carril joining the Kings' staff in 1996, shortly after his retirement as Princeton Tigers' head coach.

Carril, whose coaching tree includes Georgetown's John Thompson III and several other NCAA head coaches, passed on the Princeton offense to Jordan, who then adapted it to fit the NBA. Jordan installed the Princeton offensive principles with the New Jersey Nets as the top assistant under Byron Scott, helping Jason Kidd and company to back-to-back NBA finals appearances in the early 2000s. As head coach of the Washington Wizards and Philadelphia 76ers, Jordan ran a similar Princeton-style offense.

The following film breakdown of Rutgers' last game versus Wisconsin will highlight the Scarlet Knights' connection to the Princeton offense. Let's start with the most basic features of this offense, the one most people associate with the Princeton: the backdoor cut.

You can tell a lot about a team by what it chooses to run on its opening possession. It's usually a staple set that the team has practiced over and over. First possessions are more scripted than other free-flowing portions of the game, so it's only natural that Jordan dictates his team run Princeton.

A common theme of the Princeton is a 1-in 4-out formation, operating out of the high post. The idea is to create as much open space near the basket as possible. The backdoor cut comes off a decoy screener, who then pops to the three-point line. This is another common exchange in the Princeton, something the Terrapins runs themselves at times.

When backdoor cuts are covered, the player cutting will often transition into a post-up. Most opponents have scouted the Princeton offense, so they are on high alert for every backdoor cut. This gives Rutgers a nice option to naturally flow into when the first option is covered.

Notice how D.J. Foreman initially backcuts towards the block. That backdoor option won't be open hardly ever, so this is actually designed for the post touch. This appears to be one of Jordan's preferred methods of getting Foreman the ball in decent position and space to work. Here it is again with a similar action.

Rutgers is trying to free up Foreman with the backscreen near the elbow, as he cuts down the side of the lane. The screen leaves a lot to be desired, so Foreman remains well covered. As a result, the guard abandons the post entry and jacks up a long jumper.

Foreman was also pushed off his position in both plays above, unable to receive the ball close to the basket. I'd watch for whichever Maryland defender picks up this assignment (Robert Carter Jr. maybe?) to be very physical in forcing Foreman to catch the ball outside the lane. Then it'll be about quickness and help defense in matching up when Foreman faces up in the midpost, as opposed to any back-to-the-basket post touches.

Another tenet of the Princeton offense is that positions are flexible, and the only concrete position is the center. The big man often occupies the high post, and the other four positions are fairly interchangeable. So you can expect to see similar backcuts into post action for guards as well.

This is a similar action as the Foreman post-ups above, but it's a non-traditional look especially if someone like Melo Trimble has to defend a back-to-the-basket post touch.

Another set that Jordan ran with frequency against Wisconsin was a wing dribble-handoff within the same Princeton framework. The play begins with the same 1-in 4-out formation. The guards cut down towards the block, similar to the postup actions in the previous plays. However, this time the cutters continue around towards the wing to receive a downscreen. The high post player then executes a dribble handoff with one of the cutters, circling back to the middle.

Notice how Bishop Daniels and Mike Williams cross paths to confuse each others' defenders, and Daniels even "accidentally" runs into a Badger, allowing Williams to run free.

The ball runs through the high post big man, another Princeton fundamental, who then hands off to Daniels. With the crossing backcuts and the downscreen on the wing, Rutgers is hoping Daniels has a bunch of space to attack middle since his trailing defender has run through an obstacle course.

Here's a similar play, with Williams as the first option rather than Daniels. This is slightly modified to have Williams feed the high post directly, rather than the wing. It also eliminates the crossing backcuts, but it still leads into the wing downscreen into a dribble handoff by the elbow extended.

Maryland should be very familiar with this style of offense, and there's not much reason to believe that Rutgers is more dangerous than Princeton at running their sets. Coach Mark Turgeon should have his team very prepared for this matchup.