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Touri: Stopping Bill Carmody, Holy Cross and the Princeton Offense

Holy Cross visits Tuesday

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Touri: Stopping Bill Carmody, Holy Cross and the Princeton Offense

(Caroline O'Connor/Daily Collegian)

(Caroline O'Connor/Daily Collegian)

(Caroline O'Connor/Daily Collegian)

(Caroline O'Connor/Daily Collegian)

By Amin Touri, Sports Editor

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When Bill Carmody and Holy Cross visit the Mullins Center on Tuesday night, everyone in the building will know what the Crusaders will try to do.

A disciple of the legendary Pete Carill, Carmody was an assistant at Princeton for 15 years and sat next to Carill when the Tigers pulled off one of the NCAA Tournament’s greatest upsets in a 43-41 win over defending champions UCLA in 1995, before leading Princeton to a top-10 national ranking himself after Carill’s retirement.

As a result, Carmody lives and dies by the Princeton offense — a never-ending cycle of motion and back-cuts, ball screens and spacing, and really, really slow tempo.

I’m not going to go super in-depth into explaining the Princeton offense, but it basically looks a lot like this gif, except for 40 straight minutes:

via Gfycat

It’s an offense that’s predicated on having five guys that can all dribble, pass and shoot at an at least competent level, and a big man that’s comfortable in the pick and roll and making passes from the post, and Holy Cross have that in abundance.

It’s no secret that the Minutemen have struggled a bit defensively this season, and Tuesday night’s a big test. It’s not a typical offense, and UMass will be out of its comfort zone.

“You’ve got to throw your regular principles out for a game like this,” said UMass coach Matt McCall. “They’re so fast, they run it so well — they kind of lull you and lull you and lull you, and bang, it’s a back cut. Or it’s a flare screen, or it’s a down screen, or it’s a pick and roll. You can’t play the game with your normal defensive principles, you’ve got to be willing to adjust. You cannot get extended at all, the second you get extended you’re going to get back cut.”

McCall’s spent the whole season thus far harping on the team’s engagement defensively, and against a team like Holy Cross that’s going to back-cut you into oblivion if you lose focus for a second, that engagement is paramount.

“Just don’t get back-cut,” sophomore Luwane Pipkins said on Monday. “They’ll back-cut us really hard. Just stick to our principles stay with your man, and don’t point any fingers — that’s what [McCall]’s always saying, don’t point any fingers at your teammates, if you get back-cut just move to the next player and play the game.”

I still expect to see mostly man-to-man on Tuesday night, but personnel might force McCall to go to the zone that he’s only flashed a handful of times this season. After Monday’s practice, he referenced the Crusaders strong 3-point shooting off the bench in the front court and the problems that may cause Rashaan Holloway — when Jehyve Floyd is on the floor for Holy Cross, UMass will probably stay in man, but if Holloway has to step out against the more versatile big men, a zone look might be McCall’s only option.

The trouble, of course, with the zone against the Princeton offense is that packing the paint against a system predicated on spacing and movement that relies on strong passers and shooters means giving up open looks like this one:

via Gfycat

Let’s be super clear about something — Holy Cross isn’t Duke. The Crusaders aren’t about to walk into Mullins with some unstoppable offense and hang triple digits on the scoreboard. This also isn’t the Juice Thompson-era Northwestern team that Carmody coached at the end of last decade. But planning for them is a little more complicated than planning for a lot of teams, and like McCall said, defensive principles can get thrown out the window.

I think we’ll see more of Samba Diallo and Sy Chatman — provided he’s fully healthy, which he should be — on Tuesday for versatility and switchability reasons, and McCall might even throw out what’s been, to this point, a fairly shaky full-court press just to disrupt the flow of that offense.

But at the end of the day, scheming and planning isn’t really the most important thing for the Minutemen on Tuesday. McCall talks a lot about taking pride in sitting down and guarding, and they need to do that on Tuesday. They need to be switched on, they need to be engaged, and they can’t lose focus even for a second.

And, of course, don’t get back-cut.

Amin Touri can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @Amin_Touri.

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