Air Force ‘s Princeton could cause problems

Last year the Air Force men's basketball team advanced to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1962, captured the Mountain West Conference Championship and posted a 22-7.

It would be an impressive record for any program, but it is a spectacular feat given the Air Force's penchant for recruiting young men to fly planes and not necessarily to play basketball.

With all five starters from a year ago returning, the Falcons haven't missed a beat this year, advancing to tonight's BCA Classic final against Marquette.

The experience and hard-nosed defense helps, but the Falcons success has a lot to do with running Princeton University's namesake offense.

The Princeton offense is to basketball what the option offense is to football: it neutralizes the other team's superior athletic ability and requires players to "read" the defense.

According to a story Fran Fraschilla wrote for ESPN.com on March 4, 2002, the Princeton offense attempts to get the center involved in both the half-court set and transition so he can serve as the playmaker.

Air Force and Nick Welch, the Falcons' 2004 honorable mention All-American center, do this masterfully.

Numerous times against Jacksonville State, Welch caught the ball right outside the lane, backed his defender into the paint and then whipped the ball to an open teammate on the perimeter.

To mix things up, Welsh can also attempt to beat the opposing center one-on-one or hit the cutter with a bounce pass, for an easy layup, another trademark of the Princeton offense.

Against the Princeton offense "you don't get beat by the jump shot, you don't get beat by the fast break, you don't get beat by anything like that, but at the end of the day you look at the layups and you look at easy baskets (you gave up)," Marquette head coach Tom Crean said.

Air Force does little things. They make one-handed bounce passes off the dribble to cutting teammates because its quicker than picking up the ball with two hands.

The Air Force players set solid screens, runs through the cuts at full tilt and patiently cycle through the offense, passing the ball around until they find an opening they can exploit.

"They pass the ball pretty good. They kind of lure you to sleep and when I say lure you to sleep I mean they make you make mistakes," Jacksonville State point guard Walker Russell said after losing to the Falcons.

The pressing question facing Marquette's coaching staff is how do you force Air Force into making mistakes?

The answer: in its two lowest scoring games a year ago, a 46-38 loss at Belmont and a 37-35 loss at Texas Pan-American, Air Force couldn't solve the opposing team's zone defense.

However, Air Force overcame Jacksonville State's zone defense in the first round of the BCA Classic 59-42.