College Basketball Cheat Sheet: Offensive Sets Across the Country


College basketball starts this week so I decided to put together a cheat sheet series to get you caught up. This is really just an effort to stop talking about all the damn suspensions, eligibility questions, FBI investigation and NCAA making terrible decisions, but either way it’s something to follow along with. 

Cheat Sheet for 2017-18 Season: Here 

So I got this concept from Twitter as people would ask me what I meant by certain terminology and sets people run. I decided to break this into a couple of different sections, the first one will be offensive sets that you hear talked about all the time that perhaps the casual fan isn’t up to date on. These are things like the flex, Princeton offense, 5-out motion, dribble-drive, two-guard, high screen motion, etc. These are all things that teams run with slight variations after made popular by one particular team. These were just some of the ones suggested to me, obviously there is more offensive sets out there. If this is something you enjoy and have ideas for more breakdowns, let me know.

Princeton offense 

Teams that run it: Georgetown, Princeton, Richmond

The Princeton offense is perhaps one that was taught to any player in grade school. It was made popular by Pete Carril and is unique in the sense that there’s no set pattern to the offense. The Princeton offense is predicated on being able to read the defense, make the correct cut and keep the floor spaced. There are different variations on how to set up the Princeton offense, but you’ll most likely see it in a 4-out, 1-in set or a 2-3 high set. Princeton offense is a more deliberate offense, which is used to dictate a slower tempo. We’ve seen the Princeton offense lead to variations like the two-guard offense or 5-out, which we’ll touch on later. One difference with the Princeton offense compared to some other of the basic sets is the use of the flare screen. The Princeton offense relies on the flare screen to help pop open guys for three. We’ve seen the offense adapt to the times though and even current Princeton head coach has adjusted how the offense is run. Gone are the super slow possessions looking only for a backdoor cut layup and now it’s a super slow possession leading to threes. Princeton last year was 313th in the country in offensive possession length and 11th in the country in 3PA/FGA. That means you’re spreading the floor more, taking advantage of the cuts and keeping the lane open. The Princeton offense is designed to draw defenses away from the basket and put them in uncomfortable positions. If you watched Princeton’s NCAA Tournament game against Notre Dame you noticed that they ran the set in 5-out, 2-3 high and 4-out, 1-high. Here’s a full set:


Dribble Drive Motion Offense

Teams that use it: Kentucky

This is the John Calipari staple via Vance Walberg. It’s essentially a twist on a 4-out, 1-in motion offense where the principles are just changed. In the dribble drive the main principle of the offense is to attack off the bounce going to the rim. It’s also heavily based on a point per possession metric, especially in Walberg’s theory. His goal is to have an average of 1.1 points per possession and he gets there by free throws, layups and then 3-pointers. The belief of the dribble drive is you create foul trouble for the opponent as you beat them off the dribble and then open up the lane for easy shots at the rim. Ideally the personnel on the floor has 2 guys that can absolutely take anyone off the dribble, a great shooter, another decent shooter and then a big who is to stay opposite block and be there for alley-oops, ball screens and post entry if needed. Last year if you looked at Kentucky’s lineup you had that with Fox and Briscoe as the two guys to take people off the dribble. Monk as the great shooter. Bam as the opposite big and then usually Derek Willis as that decent shooter. The dribble drive looks for two things: spacing and creating gaps. There are sets of rules for guards in this motion offense. They tend to be: once you attack you skip pass and then relocate. Relocation should always have a guy behind the driver or if you pass the ball to the middle of the floor a basket cut to opposite side three point line. Often times you’ll see a guard start in the low corner and when the ball is entered into the high post or dribbled to the high post the guard is to relocate to the top wing, proving a quick hitter. The other part of the offense is whenever there’s a dribble towards you, the guard is to read the defense and either run a handoff or a backcut. In this possession you can see the basic principles at work. Fox drives, Hawkins relocates behind him. Once Hawkins drives, Fox goes opposite wing and Bam stays opposite block.

Flex Offense

Teams that use it: Providence, Maryland, Gonzaga, any Al Skinner coached team 

I’ll be honest, I always hated the flex offense. It’s my least favorite thing in the world and there’s no real reason why. I just despised it. That said, I want to focus on the way Providence tends to run the flex, which can vary from team to team. Providence stresses a flex offense that shortens the game in the sense that they’ll make you work on the defensive side of the ball. Providence was one of the slower teams in the country last year at an average possession length of 17.5 seconds. It’s predicated on cuts, curls and screens. A team like Providence thrives with the flex offense because it’s made to run for a team that has interchangeable pieces. Go look at Providence’s roster. You can rotate almost every single person on that roster into any spot here. One unique thing that Cooley does within the flex is create space via a flare through the pin down. This allows for an athletic group to have more space to drive – something he’ll do with this year’s team. As there’s the flex cut from the wing on an elbow to elbow exchange, the man who made the pass will take a step as if he’s going to pin down to the block and flare to the wing for an open look. Cooley likes to use the 3-point line as a spacing tool in this sense. Cooley talks pretty much at length at how his offense is designed for players that have a strong baseline game – meaning they know how to attack off the bounce, finish at the rim and/or have that baseline jumper. Here’s a pretty basic look of any flex offense:



Now this is a designed play out of the flex. As you can tell the basic set up is the triangle opposite of ball. You have Cartwright setting the screen. You have Lindsey running the flex cut off the screen and then Emmit Holt setting the pin down. The variation here is that the pin down screen is being used as a way to set up a post entry. Watch the full play here, but you can see the basic ‘tight’ flex offense that Providence runs under Cooley.

Two-Guard Offense

Teams that run it: Michigan 

This is the John Beilein offense and while it mimics the Princeton offense it varies in certain ways and is a large reason as to why Michigan has one of the best offenses in the country. The 2-guard motion offense that Beilein runs is based off of a few things. First, the set starts in a 2-3, hence the name 2-guard motion. The basic motion set out of the 2-guard is based on v-cuts on the wings and a variety of back screens, flares and reading the defense. The key for the 2-guard motion is the ability to bring everyone away from the basket and having a versatile big guy who can step out and either be a threat to score or pass from the high post area. Similar to what you see with the flex and how you can get set plays out of that offense, the 2-guard offense does let you run both shuffle and chin sets within the standard scheme. There are four main principles to the 2-guard offense. They include penetrate to the lane and kick to threes, control tempo, create mismatches with on-ball high screens and backdoor cuts. In this play against Nebraska, you can see the principles in action. First you’ll notice Xavier Simpson cutting to opposite corner after the first pass. Then you’ll see both wings run off of Mark Donnal screens to cut through the lane. Then finally you have the mismatch with the on-ball screen and a reliable outside shooting big in Donnal. He slips the screen and has a wide open 3.

5-out Open Post Motion Offense

Teams who run this: West Virgina

Yeah, West Virginia has that whole Press Virginia thing going, but what Bob Huggins is really known for is the 5-out open post motion offense. This was implemented long before Press Virginia and has been wildly effective for Huggins. The basic premise of the open post motion offense is exactly as it sounds. Keep all five guys spaced around the perimeter, with about 15-17 feet of distance between each player. From there it’s all about the ‘read’ spot, which is the nail at the free throw line that you hear so many coaches and analysts talk about – especially Jimmy Dykes who loves to say ‘drive the nail.’ It’s at that point during the cut where the player has to read the defense and either fill back out on the perimeter or backcut to the open post.  Within this motion you will see different sorts of screens as well. Sometimes you’ll see a guard screen for a wing or post as he cuts through the lane. Huggins has thrown in a mix where he’ll have a double screen for his ‘five’ guy to run off to the low  post on. There is a combo of the Princeton offense + dribble drive with this open post motion. The goal is to leave the floor spaced so you can beat you’re guy off the dribble and there’s either late help from the weakside of people cheating so far over you have a clean look from three. At the same time Huggins has shown he’ll run the flex out of this set. He’ll mix up what he wants depending on his lineup and the open post motion just keeps defenses guessing. Here against Gonzaga you can see the fill spots happening, the space and the cuts. Once there’s cutting it allows Macon to come up and act as if he’s setting the high ball screen. It’s pretty basic, but Huggins has really grown the open post motion.