LARAMIE – The Air Force football team’s triple-option offense historically gives opponents fits. In a similar vein, the Falcons’ basketball team has its very own version of a headache inducing offense, too.
When the University of Wyoming men’s basketball team (3-5 overall, 0-0 Mountain West) hosts Air Force (3-5, 0-0) today in the Mountain West opener for both squads, the Cowboys will see something different from what most college basketball teams run in 2019: the Princeton offense.
The Princeton offense is predicated on constant motion, non-scripted offense, reading and reacting, knock-down shooting and a strong post presence, per Basketball for Coaches. There aren’t many teams that run the offense, which was established by former Princeton coach Pete Carril. It features “positionless” basketball, where every player can do a little bit of everything.
In a lot of ways, it’s basketball’s version of the triple-option: Expect the unexpected and always, always be on your toes.
“We have to be on edge because a lot of their offense tries to get you to relax. They look as if they’re not doing anything and then bam, a cut, bam, a slip,” UW head coach Allen Edwards said. “There’s no such thing in a Princeton offense as sticking a guy in a corner and him doing nothing.”
Air Force has five players averaging better than 8 points per game this season, led by Lavelle Scottie’s 13.1 clip. The Falcons shoot 45.7% from the field as a team and snapped a four-game losing streak last Sunday by defeating Jackson State.
While some teams focus on pushing the pace in transition or running set half-court offensive plays, Air Force opts to read and react.
“It’s definitely tough. All their stuff is them making reads,” redshirt sophomore guard Hunter Maldonado said. “(We have to be) able to limit the open court, because they take advantage of that pretty well.”
Wyoming is coming off of two losses at the MGM Main Event in Las Vegas against Colorado and TCU. The team is well-rested, though, as the Cowboys last played Nov. 26. UW held Colorado, ranked No. 20 in the latest Associated Press poll, to just 15 points in the first half before ultimately falling 56-41. Wyoming started off slowly against TCU (outscored 30-14 in the first half) but were outscored in the second half by just a point.
The two games in Las Vegas were lessons in “bully ball.” TCU, in particular, featured large bodies down low that tested players like UW redshirt sophomore Hunter Thompson, who had to scrap and claw for positioning and rebounds. Edwards referred to the forward as the team’s “sacrificial lamb.” Though fatiguing, both mentally and physically, the games were good preparation for any potential wrenches the conference throws UW’s way the rest of the season.
“It was fun to be able to play that physical, but it was a learning experience,” Thompson, who had a combined 8 points and 7 rebounds in the two games, said. “In the Mountain West, there’s bigger bodies, but there’s not, like, bruisers. It’s just a difference in physicality and when and when not to use it. That was the biggest thing that I got out of it.”
Wednesday’s matchup against Air Force also presents a unique challenge in terms of this year’s conference schedule: every Mountain West team will play either one or two games against conference foes this week before finishing out their non-conference slate of games. Then, the meat of conference play will start. After the matchup with Air Force, UW hosts New Mexico on Saturday, where the jersey of former UW star Fennis Dembo will be retired at halftime.
Conference play this early in the season is certainly different – Wyoming didn’t play its first conference foe last season until Jan. 2, 2018. The scheduling isn’t necessarily a bad thing, though. Facing a pair of conference foes before three week’s worth of non-conference opponents provides the chance to practice and implement strategies before the bulk of Mountain West play begins. Playing both games in the friendly confines of the Arena-Auditorium is an added bonus.
“This early in the season, it is weird,” Maldonado said. “It’s a really cool thing also, because it can give you almost a sense of what to expect early while we still have preseason to work … it is weird, but I think it is beneficial.”