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M. hoops keyed by offensive versatility

With four of the five starters on the men's basketball team (23-1 overall, 11-0 Ivy League) shooting over 40 percent from behind the three-point arc, opponents could think that Princeton's coaches do an incredible job of teaching their players the art of shooting.

But unlike most teams, Princeton players don't usually take many contested jumpshots. Instead, they frequently get wide-open looks due to the offensive scheme.

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The Tigers' system is arguably one of the most intricate offenses in college basketball. It involves a patient attack that reacts to the opposition's defense.

"It took a year and a half before I was really comfortable (running the offense)," senior forward James Mastaglio said.

Princeton freshmen learn firsthand the effectiveness of the offense, when the upperclassmen repeatedly catch the rookies out of position for easy layups.

"The first couple weeks of practice are great because you practice against the freshmen," Mastaglio said. "You get everything you want. Its actually kind of funny because four years ago, that was you. The seniors were laughing at you back then."

Pick your poison

Despite the offense's complexity, Princeton forces its opponents to make a simple decision: to stop the Tiger back-door cuts or to take away the outside shot.

Earlier in the season, Wake Forest tried to stop Princeton using an overplaying defense, hoping to force turnovers. But the Tigers took advantage of the Demon Deacons' aggressiveness with eight layups in the first half.

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Saturday, Dartmouth played a sagging defense to take away senior center Steve Goodrich and the back door, but the Tigers hit 11 three-pointers.

One of the mainstays of the Tiger offense is a play called low post.

In low post, Princeton begins in its usual set with junior guard Brian Earl and senior guard Mitch Henderson at the top. Mastaglio and junior forward Gabe Lewullis stand on the wings and Goodrich is in the post.

Earl makes the first pass to Mastaglio on the wing, and Earl then cuts through the lane and comes out on the opposite side of the court. After looking into the post to Goodrich, Mastaglio dribbles the ball towards Henderson at the top of the key, handing the ball off as Henderson runs by.

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Then, Henderson passes the ball back to the top to Lewullis, who has rotated over to fill the vacant spot left by Earl. Lewullis passes to the opposite side of the court to Earl, and then sets a screen at the free throw line for Goodrich.

Coast is clear

Goodrich comes off the Lewullis pick and receives a pass from Earl, to get the wide-open look at the basket from the three-point line.

And Goodrich has consistently hit the three from the top of the key this season, currently standing at 42.8 percent.

Throughout the play, there are opportunities to find someone cutting back door or Goodrich in the post. And this is only one variation of one set in the Princeton offense used to keep the opponent off-guard.

But Princeton has basically utilized the same offensive sets over the years. The difference between this year's No. 9 Tigers and previous Princeton teams is experience. The Tigers start two juniors and three seniors, all of whom started early on in their careers. Experience translates into confidence, which has allowed the offense to adapt to its players.

"We're so comfortable with the basics that it's like second nature to us," Mastaglio said. "Mitch throws passes all the time to guys where there's no one even near the area. But he's got so much confidence in Steve, me, Brian and Gabe that he knows we're eventually going to turn up where he's throwing the ball."

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