Breaking Down Florida’s Princeton Point Series Offense

Starting the 2019-20 season the Gators were attempting to play a free flowing style of dribble drive offense where players were given a lot of free reign to make reads and attack appropriately. Unfortunately that didn’t work and mere weeks into the season Mike White and his coaching staff diagnosed that the style wasn’t working and they would need to go to something more structured.

What they came up with was something of a modernization of the Princeton offense, an offense that was extremely popular a few decades before mostly falling out of favor but one that has been making a resurgence as of late.

For the record, it’s worth noting that when asked midseason in a press conference about the team’s use of the Princeton offense Mike White pushed back, saying he wouldn’t call it Princeton. In the technical sense that is true, but they are borrowing heavily from it—particularly an element of the offense called the “Point” series (don’t worry, we’ll get into it) with elements of the “Chin” series (that too). A Princeton purist would look at Florida’s offense and say they aren’t running it in the truest form, but they would absolutely recognize the key elements that the Gators utilize.

Before we get into Florida’s offense there are a few terms to go over as you’re going to see them a few times throughout this article. If you don’t understand them yet that’s totally fine—you will by the time you’re done reading this.

Chin Screen: A back screen that gets a cutter running straight down the lane towards the hoop. This is the most important part of the offense and something you’ll see in every possession so if you don’t recognize what a chin screen is now, don’t worry! You will soon.

Split Action: A two-man game performed away from the ball where player A sets a screen for player B. Player A can set a variety of screens and it’s player B’s job to read it and run off of it according. This is another massive part of the offense and something you’ll see on every possession, so you’ll learn to look out for it.

Deny (Or Reject) A Screen: When a player goes to use a screen but at the last minute stops and goes the opposite direction. Since a defense is usually expecting a player to use a screen this can throw them off and free up the offensive player.

Slip A Screen: When a player goes to set a screen but before making contact abandons setting it and cuts to the hoop instead. This is done to surprise defenses expecting contact on the screen to be made.

Hands Back: When a player sets a screen away from the ball (in split action) and then pops back to the three-point line.

Pinch Post: When a player throws the ball into a post player and then runs over top of him.

Once again, if these terms don’t make sense quite yet don’t be worried—you’ll understand perfectly soon.

Let’s start with the base offense Florida runs.

Point Series

We don’t really need to get into the nitty gritty of the Princeton offense as there is much to it that Florida doesn’t run but for the sake of interest you should know Florida’s base offense is referred to as the Point Series within the library of Princeton offense. Very simply put, it’s a guard throwing the ball into the high post and playing off of it.

The first action involves a guard-to-guard pass or a dribble handoff. The player that gave up the ball will then cut to the hoop, receiving a chin screen from the lone big on the floor.

Next, the guard with the ball throws it into the post player who just set the chin screen.

That’s when the offense really starts.

The guard who threw the ball into the post then runs to a wing player and that’s where the essence of the offense begins—the split action. The guard who passed the ball into the post runs to the wing to engage the split action. This involves the player who passed the ball into the high post going and setting a screen for the wing player. At that point the wing can decide what he wants to do with the screen. He can either curl off the screen (something the Gators loved for Keyontae Johnson), deny the screen, or flare off the screen for a three-point attempt.

To help contextualize it, here is a video of the Gators running a bunch of split actions.

First, look at the first guard giving up the ball to the second guard before receiving the chin screen from either Kerry Blackshear Jr. or Omar Payne (depending on the clip). Then, you’ll see them go engage a wing in split action.

In the first two clips you’ll see this worked to perfection with Andrew Nembhard and Keyontae Johnson who excelled in this two-man game. Obviously, teams are going to be incredibly concerned with Johnson going towards the hoop and Nembhard is aware of that in the first clip. He sets the screen for Johnson to curl and then goes “hands back” and pops to the three-point line. Because the defense sags to take away Johnson, Nembhard is wide open. In the second clip you see them more concerned with Nembhard popping and Johnson is available to curl to the hoop for a dunk.

In the rest of the clips you’ll see some other “hands back” threes as well as some crafty back door cuts from Johnson and Scottie Lewis rejecting screens and surprising defenses. As you watch these clips and see the Gators go to the two-man game look at all the possibilities for variation they have. What angle the screener decides to set a pick is up to him, and the wing using the screen can curl, reject, or flare out. As much as this is a somewhat structured offense there is still lots of opportunity for Gator players to show creativity and make reads on the fly and this split action is a big part of it.

Pinch Post

Another option the Gators have in the offense is initiated by the guards who have the chance to pinch post. In the pinch post, a guard throws the ball into the high post but instead of then going to engage a wing in split action he goes to run over the top of the big he just threw the ball into. After running over the big he can still engage in split action and it can give the defense a different look. In the normal offense the split action is used on the strong side of the floor (the side of the floor with more players on it) but when the pinch post is used the split action is on the weak side. Additionally, a player can fake the pinch post and sit behind the screen, either pulling up for a jumper or receiving a dribble handoff to turn the play into a bit of a ball screen look.

Here are some examples of the Gators using the pinch post:

Wing Option

This is one of my favorite variations of the Gators’ Princeton offense and they ran it extremely effectively last season. It’s more complex than their base offense and is a little bit closer to traditional Princeton and they were able to get a lot of easy looks out of it.

Get ready to level up in your Princeton understanding because there are a few more steps to this one.

To start, the Gators line up almost 4 across on the free throw line extended. The initiating guard passes to the wing and then receives a chin screen. After the guard cuts to the hoop, he then sets a chin screen for a player on the weak side or receives a pin down screen (a little split action here depending on which player wants to set the screen). After doing that, he goes and pinches the post, receiving a dribble handoff which ends up looking like a ball screen.

Let’s take a look at some examples of this offense. Enjoy, because this one is a ton of fun to watch. Make sure to take in all the different steps of the offense, something that might take a few viewings.

What makes this particular set so good is that there is so much player movement and so much off-ball screening that there are tons of opportunities to hit cutters after they set picks. As you can see in the video the Gators got the second screener on a few slips to the hoop—buckets made easy because the defense was so occupied with all the movement.

Traditional Princeton offense is all about getting backdoor cuts and that’s what makes this set a little bit closer to the traditional offense than what their base offense is. What also made this offense work is that it was something that utilized two bigs when they wanted to play Blackshear and Payne on the floor at the same time. Their base Point Series offense is one that requires a single big surrounded by four perimeter players and that didn’t jive with Blackshear and Payne on the floor at the same time but with the wing series that utilized multiple chin screens it totally worked and there were some excellent high-low moments with the two.

Floppy

Another set right out of the traditional Princeton offense is Floppy, a play that starts with four players in a box setup with the top two players setting down screens for the lower two players. From there the ball gets entered into one of the high posts and they play from there. The high post that doesn’t get the entry pass sets a chin screen for the guard, and then has a few options. Sometimes he sets a down screen for the low wing, and other times the passer engages in split action. This is another set that’s a bit more complex, so let’s see some examples.

There are a few variations out of the floppy look and the Gators had some success with it at times. With so much off-ball action taking place there were opportunities for the defense to lose a player and Florida was able to get layups off of mistakes. Florida wasn’t as comfortable in this set as some of their other Princeton actions but there were still some moments of glory and some games they went to Floppy a lot so it’s something you could see more in the future.

Pick And Roll

When the Gators ran their base Point Series offense and the split action didn’t lead to a shot, what was nice about the offense was that it could always turn into a spread ball screen. After the ball was entered into the post and the passer engaged in split action if nothing was there the post would simply give it back to the passer and then go and set a screen for him. At this point the other three players were all behind the three-point line which allowed for a nicely spaced pick and roll. This is where Mike White has modernized a classic Princeton offense, making sure that if the initial action isn’t there that they can flow in the most common of modern basketball plays—the spread pick and roll.

If you’re reading this I’m sure you know what a pick and roll is and the ending of these plays won’t be anything surprising to you but watch again as the Gators look to engage in split action and look at the reads the players make out of the two-man game. By this point in the article your eyes are probably incredibly trained to see the split action and next time you watch the Gators play you aren’t going to be able to miss it.

Other Actions

This is just conjecture but one of the reasons Mike White may have pushed back on the idea that his team was running Princeton was that there are connotations that the offense is outdated, slow, and strict. For some teams that run it that is the case but for Florida there were plenty of options within the offense and a lot of different opportunities. Here are some of the other plays the Gators didn’t use as much as the other sets I had talked about.

As you can see, the way that the floor was spaced in the Princeton allowed room for Blackshear to go one-on-one if he liked the matchup, likely one of the reasons the coaching staff liked this offense for their roster. Additionally, they had a few sets for getting the ball into Blackshear on the low post that you’ll see in the video, as well as a flare screen option to get Locke a shot once the ball was inside.

Considering that the Gators have a superb athlete in Keyontae Johnson they also wanted to get him lobs whenever possible and the chin screen gave a perfect opportunity to get him freed up.

Pros Of The Princeton

Despite the connotations of the Princeton being a rigid offense it’s biggest strength comes from the split action where players have a ton of freedom to make reads. What’s great about the split action as well is that it’s tough to guard, even if you have two not-great offensive players engaging in it. Whenever there is a two-man game where both players have multiple options of what to do there is a chance for defensive breakdowns and the numerous possibilities served the Gators well.

In modern basketball the idea is to get as many three-point attempts and shots at the rim as possible and the Princeton is well suited for that. The attempts are almost always “hands back” three point attempts or back cuts that turn into layups, something that makes the Princeton work with modern offensive philosophies.

The off-ball movement of the Princeton is also great for making opposing teams really have to work on the defensive end. In so many of the modern continuity ball screen offenses that we see in modern basketball only two or three defensive players really have to be engaged in the play and that lessens the chance of someone making a mistake that leads to a bucket. In the Princeton the constant off-ball movement and split actions involves multiple defenders and when you involve multiple defenders you have multiple chances for breakdowns.

Cons Of The Princeton

This is not a fast offense and it requires some methodical play, something that isn’t always the most exciting. When the team is scoring I don’t think anyone cares about the pace the team is scoring at but if the Gators want to play higher possession games this isn’t going to be the best offense for it. The Gators were especially slowed down when teams that scouted them well went all out in denying the entry pass to the high post knowing that if the Gators didn’t get the ball into there the offense would fall apart.

Another downside is that this is somewhat of an equal opportunity offense where no one player is featured as a primary offensive weapon. That can be good for when you’ve got five scorers on the floor but if you want to ensure your best player is getting a bulk of the shots this isn’t the best option. Say, for example, the Gators are trying to make Keyontae Johnson the center of the offense next year and they want him taking as many good shots as possible. They can involve him in the initial split action every time they run it, but the entire essence of the offense is that you don’t know who in the two-man split action is going to be in a scoring position.

Final Thoughts

Last season Florida’s offense took more heat than it deserved and overall they were quite efficient finishing 27th in adjusted offensive efficiency. This is made more impressive by the fact that they didn’t implement the offense fully until a few weeks into the season meaning they didn’t even have a proper training camp to learn it.

Realistically the Gators are only scratching the surface of the Princeton offense and are only using a small part of it. If they want to embrace it fully the possibilities are endless and they could use way more wrinkles out of it than they did last season. Considering they have so many returning pieces from last year’s team that was using the Princeton Point Series they would be well positioned to add more sets within the structure of the offense and it could mean even more offensive efficiency.

After watching every half court offensive possession in preparation for this article I can comfortably say this is a good offense for the team and it’s one that with a full offseason of preparation could use to even better outcomes. What they were using with the offense was working and as they continue to make it more and more complex they’re going to be tough to guard.

Eric Fawcett
Eric hails from Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. His blend of sports and comedy has landed his words on ESPN, Bleacher Report, CBS Sports, Lindy's and others. He loves zone defenses, the extra pass, and a 30 second shot clock. Growing up in Canada, an American channel showing SEC basketball games was his first exposure to Gator hoops, and he has been hooked ever since. You can follow him on Twitter at @Efawcett7.