When people think about the Princeton Offense the first thing that comes to mind is the slow, plodding teams of Pete Carril's later years and Northwestern's more recent ones. The truth is though it is an offense that can be run at any pace given the personnel at your disposal. The Wildcats are beginning to prove how true that is. Northwestern exploded for 75 possessions in a 92-61 victory over St. Francis (NY) in the semifinals of the MSG Holiday Festival on Monday.
"They don't play slow," said St. Francis head coach Glenn Braica. "Princeton used to play in the 50's, they play in the 80's. ... They look to run it quick. On top of that they have great shooters."
The starting five especially is designed to play at a quick pace now. Drew Crawford came back to life on Monday after two lackluster games last week and scored almost twice his per game average with 25 points. At times it seemed like there were three of him on the court as he also had nine rebounds, eight assists, three blocks and two steals in a superb all-around effort. Crawford was a mismatch for a smaller St. Francis team at every spot on the court.
"We felt that [Crawford] really needed to have a good game," Bill Carmody said. "I don't like seeing him just make shots, just turning him into a suburban jump shooter. I think he can do so much more."
He was joined in double-figures by John Shurna, who had a game-high 26 points, Michael Thompson, who scored 14, and JerShon Cobb, who added 11. That balanced scoring helped the Wildcats stay on the attack, even though the team had a few dismal offensive stretches early in the first half and midway through the second.
"It's a good bunch of guys," Carmody said. "They're selfless. There's a lot of different guys that can score. There were a lot of nice plays out there. I thought there were a lot of extra passes. ... Guys weren't thinking about themselves they were thinking about the team."
Those offensive deficiencies forced the Wildcats to hunker down on defense and that's exactly what they did. Northwestern allowed 61 points in those 75 possessions, a robust 0.813 points per possession. That's an excellent defensive effort.
What it really showed too is the value of turnovers. The 1-3-1 zone creates a lot more than your average zone, and it did so again on Monday after the 2-3 match up zone just seemed to leave Northwestern's defenders flat-footed. The Wildcats forced 21 turnovers, which led to 35 points. It was an excellent defensive effort against a team, that even with the heroics of Dre Calloway - who scored 14 points on 5-10 shooting - and Travis Nichols - who scored 19 points on 6-8 shooting, looked overmatched against the tricky defensive set.
For Thompson it was a great effort on the Garden stage for a few reasons. He had to play as #2 after his typical #22 jersey was lost in the flight over and he might've banged his knee a bit. It sounds like he'll be fine though for tomorrow. That's good no matter who the Wildcats play.
Carmody, probably with the knowledge that there is another game to win tomorrow, rested his starters a good deal. Thompson played a light, for him at least, 34 minutes and Shurna played only 30. The extra dose of 1-3-1 allowed Alex Marcotullio to play 23 minutes with four assists and three boards.
Tomorrow Northwestern gets a chance at what could possibly be its best non-conference victory, depending on the result of tonight St. John's vs. Davidson game. It'll be a critical game for the Wildcats' bubble chances. We'll be here live at 9:15 p.m. and if it's the Red Storm that's the opponent I've already got a Q&A queued up and ready to go. Should be a fun time tomorrow from Madison Square Garden.
No matter the opponent, expect to see even more run-and-gun offense.