Tonight the Nittany Lions go up against the Princeton Tiger, home to the infamous “Princeton” offense. We, in the Big Ten, are all too familiar with this style due to our familiarization with Northwestern, whose played that style for years. A hallmark of the offense is maintaining a deliberate pace to the game. But exactly how deliberate is that?
A quick look at Ken Pomeroy’s stat site shows Princeton plays at an adjusted pace of 60.3 possessions a game. Is that all that different from Penn State’s 70.3? Ten possessions over 40 minutes doesn’t really seem all that great.
Ahhh. But here’s where your first impressions might be off.
First of all, a hint should come from the fact that the 60.3 pace number is 334th in the nation out of 341 (btw – future opponent Denver is the dead last 341st guy while NW is 304th). That’s a sure sign that there doing something quite different.
The second thing to understand, is that 60.3 possessions number isn’t the pace that Princeton plays WHILE they have the ball. It’s the AVERAGE pace for the entire game not just Princeton’s time of possession.
The national average pace is 68.6. Games that Princeton plays in average 8.3 possessions less. If we assume that Princeton has been playing average foes (and that’s a safe assumption since Pomeroy has adjusted the pace numbers for the competition) then one might conclude that in order for the average pace of the game to be 60.3, the Princeton must be actually playing at a 52.0 possession pace (Princeton’s 52.0 pace when averaged with an opponent pace of 68.6 would equal a game pace of 60.3).
Similarly, Penn State’s game pace of 70.3 is underrepresented since our pace is greater than the national averager (for the record our pace is 118th – substantially up from last year’s year end 63.8 284th ranked pace). Using the same conceptual argument as above, PSU probably tries to play at a pace of about 73.0 when we have the ball.
That means that the real difference between the two paces is more along the lines of 20 possessions per game. Princeton methodically plays at about 70% the speed that we do. That can be quite frustrating to a team that inherently wants to push the ball.
Here’s hoping they’ve learned to relax and accept the pace rather than try to fight it. Fighting it leads to over aggression on defense and gets you back doored to death.