'Princeton' not a bad word for American's offense

'Princeton' not a bad word for American's offense
January 29, 2014, 12:00 am
Share This Post

Uncertainty, yeah that was the returning center's first reaction. Others on the team or in town likely shared a similar reaction.

Now, thanks to American's undefeated start in conference play, any concerns disappeared, any doubters have gone silent. More likely, they're now believers. Honestly, how could they not be? First-year coach Mike Brennan's implementation of the "Princeton" offense is receiving nothing but high marks.

Coming off a 10-20 season and picked ninth in the 10-team Patriot League preseason poll, the Eagles (12-7) have soared past expectations with a program-best 8-0 start in conference. Now they are shooting better from the field than nearly every team in college basketball. During the current nine-game winning streak, AU's offense has taken flight thanks to the notable sharing schemes.

Starting with the final non-conference game, a 13-point victory over Maryland Eastern Shore on Dec. 29, the Eagles have made over half of their field goal attempts in seven of nine games. On the season, American ranks fourth nationally with a 50.7 percent clip, one spot behind a Kansas program loaded with rim-rattling future NBA lottery picks.

The Eagles don't have that kind of arsenal, but are plenty potent. In a first place showdown against Boston University on Jan. 22, American made a staggering 11 of 14 3-pointers and shot 78.6 percent from the field for an 86-56 rout over a team that won at Maryland this season.

For those thinking fluke, the Eagles scored 84 in their next game, a 10-point win over Army. The chance for a 10th straight win comes at Bender Arena on Wednesday night against Navy (7-12, 2-6).

Senior center Tony Wroblicky and his teammates know they haven't come close to mastering the motion offense, those backdoor passes. It's clear the senior has grasped the benefits and talking points.

"The Princeton Offense is very hard to guard. If you take one thing away, something else is going to be open," said Wroblicky, one of several players thriving this season. "The shots we're getting are very good shots and we're knocking down a lot of open looks. The offense is really helping score a lot of points."

To be clear, we're not talking about a one-dimensional squad. American's defense allows only 60.8 points per game, ranking among the nation's best.

The guarding serves as the team's baseline. The offense is what's making headlines.

The headlines back in April were about the Eagles hiring Brennan, who played at Princeton for the legendary coach Pete Carril; served as an assistant at American under the man he replaced, Jeff Jones; and spent the previous four seasons at Georgetown on John Thompson III's staff.

Virtually every story about the Brennan addition referenced the Eagles also taking on that offense.

"I was a little unsure at first. I didn't really know a whole lot about the Princeton offense, Wroblicky said. "A lot of backdoor cuts and screens and stuff like that, but I didn't really know what my role would be."

Previously, the 6-foot-10 center spent games on the low blocks waiting for entry passes. Under Brennan, the senior has become the high post triggerman while point guard Darius Gardner directs. In the "Princeton" Wroblicky is averaging career-highs in scoring (12.2), rebounding, assists and blocks while shooting 61 percent from the field.

"I couldn't be happier running it now," Wroblicky said. "I love the offense. I wish I [played in it] all four years."

Leading scorers John Schoof and Jesse Reed provide the perimeter punch. Wroblicky dubbed the 5-foot-9 Gardner - yes, his nickname is "Pee-wee" - as AU's "catalyst" on both ends of the court.

The Eagles are excited about where they are, but know 10 regular season games remain. Eventually they'll focus on the one-bid Patriot League's all-or-nothing conference tournament, but not yet.

The Princeton Offense-loving Eagles have more shots to make.

"It's basically the willingness to share the ball and the ability to do it, recognize who is open, who is not," Brennan said. "At the same time regardless of who is the open man, he has to be able to knock down a shot. We have a bunch of shooters on court that are capable of doing that."

One doesn't need to be an Ivy league graduate to realize that.