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Maybe it's the system?

The year is 2003, you're reading the newest edition of ESPN the Magazine.  Inside you'll find a story about how Jason Williams and Hubie Brown are turning things around in Memphis, a 15 year old OJ Mayo is being touted as the next LeBron (who mind you, was in the middle of his rookie season at the time), someone tries to make the argument that adding Calbert Cheaney, Nick Van Exel, and Brian Cardinal was a good move after losing Gilbert Arenas and Antawn Jamison in the off-season, and there's this little, five-paragraph article in the NCAA Basketball section titled "System Failure" about the failings of the Princeton offense, the same one that Eddie Jordan currently runs.

Even though it's fairly short, I'm pretty sure that posting the whole thing would be a no-no, so I'm just going to post part of it, and hope that you're local library has the rest if you're that interested.

Sometimes, reality gets in the way of a good story.  And so it is with the legend of the Princeton offense.  Sure, more coaches than ever are using parts of Pete Carill's system, built on motion, backdoor cuts and three-point shooting.  Problem is, teams running the pure version aren't winning.  "Everyone has caught up," says Cornell coach Steve Donahue.  "It's easier to guard."

The six teams that ran the Princeton offense last season -- the Tigers, Dartmouth, Columbia, Samford, Northwestern, Air Force -- went a combined 63-103.  Columbia coach Armond Hill took the backdoor to the unemployment line after his Lions went 2-25.  And Campbell's Billy Lee, who dabbled with the system only to see his team finish 5-22, resigned after 18 years on the job.

But didn't Herb Sendek turn it around at NC State after incorporating aspects of Carill's offense into his playobook two years ago?  Well, no.  The Pack's recent success has been in spite of the Princeton influence, not because of it.  Better ballers like Julius Hodge are the real reason for the surge.  "The way they run the offense is a joke," says one coach.  "They have no idea what they're doing in terms of angles and intricacies."

Just for a comparison to record of teams that ran this when the article came out, here's a list of the teams running the Princeton now (according to the always reliable Wikipedia), along with their record for the past season:

  • Princeton: 6-23
  • Georgetown: 28-6
  • Air Force: 16-14
  • Northwestern: 8-22 
  • Richmond: 16-15
  • Brown: 19-10
  • Samford: 14-16
  • USC: 21-12
  • Arizona State: 21-12

Clearly, it's gotten better since '03.  The record of coaches using the Princeton has improved from 63-103 (.379 winning %) to 149-130 ( .534 winning %) this year, but again, this could be a product of better players rather than the success of the system.  The only two teams from that group that made the tournament were Georgetown and USC and they both have players that are projected to be first round picks in the draft with Roy Hibbert for Georgetown and Davon Jefferson and "the next LeBron" for USC.  Take away those two teams, and the winning percentage drops to .481.

Now am I saying that Eddie Jordan's system is handcuffing the team and that he needs to be fired?  Not necessarily.  There aren't nearly as many players in the NCAA ranks that can execute the Princeton effectively as is done in the NBA.  Not to mention, that it's not like the team's offense has been the reason the Wizards can't get past Cleveland.  But it's very interesting to note that for all of the talk of "the Wizards execute the offense better without Arenas!" and "the ball movement is AMAZING!" this year, their offensive rating was lower this year than it was the past three years when they supposedly weren't executing Eddie's offensive system.

Again, I'm not trying to turn this into some sort of a Fire Eddie post or anything like that.  I'm just saying that maybe just maybe the Princeton offense isn't all that we've cracked it up to be.  With that said, I'm not the greatest X's and O's guy out there either, so I'm open to rebuke and debate on this one.