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Basketball Defense - 1-3-1 Zone Defense

By James Gels, from the Coach’s Clipboard Basketball Playbook, @
The 1-3-1 zone defense has the advantage of being able to apply pressure on the outside arc and high post, and allows for some trapping. The major weakness is when the offense attacks from the corners and into the low post. Coaches may differ on who covers what, but you have to decide which is best for your team and make sure your players all understand how you want them to shift and defend. Rebounding can also be a problem with only one low defender. See Zone Rebounding.

John Beilein
Michigan coach John Beilein uses a 1-3-1 zone

Study the diagrams below to understand the how the zone shifts and players move. Below are two ways of playing the zone. The first is more conservative with less gambling and trapping. The second is a more aggressive, trapping defense which requires quick athletic players.

The top three defenders X1, X2 and X3 (diagram A) should be quick, athletic. X4 also needs to cover a lot of territory. Your actual player numbers (assignments) could be different depending on your personnel. X5 is your strong post defender. The basic rules are:
  • X5 plays the offensive post player man-to-man, denying him the ball (fronting most of the time)
  • The wing defenders X2 and X3 must drop to the weak-side block when the ball is on the opposite wing.
  • X4 stays even or below the block and when the ball moves to a wing, moves out about halfway to the corner.

Conventional, more conservative 1-3-1 zone defense

Diagram A shows the basic setup... X1 on the top, X2 and X3 on the wings (near the arc, free-throw line extended), X5 on the post player, and X4 down low. The arrows show how the defenders generally move in the zone. X2 and X3 are moving vertically up and down as the ball moves, while X1 and X4 move laterally, sideways with ball movement. X5 just follows his man, denying the pass. These are general guidelines, and players must always remember that the ball is the most important thing, and they must talk and communicate. Most offenses will set up with a two guard offense, a 2-1-2 set (diagram B).

1-3-1 zone defense - rotation 1-3-1 zone defense - rotation 1-3-1 zone defense - rotation

Diagram B. As the ball crosses half-court, X1 tries to direct the ball to one side, to the awaiting wing player X2 who then takes the ball. X1 drops toward the high post. X4 moves sideways, outside the paint. The opposite wing X3 drops to the weak-side block to give inside help. X5 is denying.

If the ball is passed to the corner (diagram C), X4 closes-out on the ball and X2 can either drop inside a little, or trap the corner with X4. X5 goes with his man O5 and denies the pass inside. X1 drops to the ball-side elbow, and the zone now looks like diagram D.

In diagram D, the ball is passed back out to the wing. X1 will initally cover the ball until X2 can get there, and then X1 will slide over more toward the top. X4 drops back toward (but not in) the paint. X5 denies the post player.

On ball-reversal (diagram E), X1 follows the ball and contains until X3 can get there. (X1 might anticipate and intercept this pass, and get a lay-up on the other end). X3 sprints out and closes-out on the ball on the wing. The opposite wing X2 drops down to the weak-side block to give inside help. X4 sprints across ball-side, again just a little outside the paint. X5 denies the post. The zone now looks like diagram F.

1-3-1 zone defense - trapping the corner 1-3-1 zone defense - trapping the corner 1-3-1 zone defense - trapping the corner

As the ball is passed to the corner (diagram F), X4 closes-out on the ball. X3 can either trap or drop inside. X1 drops to the ball-side elbow. X5 denies the post player. X2 gives help down low, but has weak-side responsibility. Now the zone looks like diagram H.

1-3-1 zone defense - trapping the wing 1-3-1 zone defense - trapping the wing 1-3-1 zone defense - trapping the wing

Trapping, more aggressive 1-3-1 zone defense

This trapping zone defense is more aggressive and puts pressure on the wings, as we look to trap the wings and the corners... (more)

Become a Premium Member or get the Deluxe CD or downloads to get the complete article and animation. This complete article also includes the trapping 1-3-1 zone defense.

Related pages:

Helpful DVDs:

Aggressive 1-3-1 Zone Defense

Aggressive 1-3-1 Zone Defense
with Tom Blackford, Fayetteville Manlius (NY) High School Head Boys Basketball Coach; distinguished member of the New York State Basketball Hall of Fame; over 400 victories, 2x New York State High School Champions
In this exciting presentation, he shares his secrets to developing a smothering 1-3-1 defense... In detailed manner, Coach Blackford teaches the responsibilities and actions of the chaser, wings, center and point guard. His primary emphasis here is letting players play without over-thinking their actions. He allows his players to trap and move freely within the parameters of simple rules.

To make the defense even more effective, Coach Blackford shows how the 1-3-1 can transform into a "Triangle & Two," "Box-in-One" or "Match-Up" defense in the middle of an offensive possession... (more info)

Price: $39.99
Buy Now

1-3-1 Michigan Zone Defense

The Michigan 1-3-1 Zone Defense & Drills
with Dennis Felton, Former University of Georgia Head Coach
This revolutionary 1-3-1 zone defense is on the leading edge of basketball strategy today. Dennis Felton, who had the opportunity to learn the John Beilien Michigan 1-3-1 from the ground up, unveils this innovative defense. Now's your chance to learn about the defense, drills and the inner workings of this secret defense. No one outside the John Belien coaching tree knows these 1-3-1 techniques.

The 1-3-1 zone defense has been very successful for teams seeking to disrupt their opponents' offensive schemes. Now you can take your 1-3-1 to the next level! The Michigan 1-3-1 is designed to restrict passing and force the offense to put the ball on the floor. It creates confusion and anxiety in your opponent, creating turnovers and steals that can lead to game-changing scores for your team... (more info)

Price: $39.99
Buy Now

Running and Defeating the 1-3-1 Zone Defense - Bob Huggins and Dave Odom

Running and Defeating the 1-3-1 Zone Defense - Bob Huggins and Dave Odom
with Bob Huggins, West Virginia University Head Coach, Over 600 career wins,former University of Cincinnati Head Coach, '00-'01 National Coach of the Year, Conference USA "Coach of the Decade" (Cincinnati) th College Coach of the Year (2010), 856 Career wins, 15x NCAA Sweet Sixteen Appearances

and Dave Odom, former Head Coach at the University of South Carolina and Wake Forest; 406 Career wins, 9x NCAA Tournament Appearances, 3x ACC Coach of the Year

In this combination DVD Coaches Bob Huggins and Dave Odom give you a detailed insight to teaching and attacking the 1-3-1-zone defense... (more info)

Price: $39.99
Buy Now

1-3-1 zone defense

Half-Court 1-3-1 Trap
with Seth Greenberg, Virginia Tech University Head Coach, former University of South Florida Head Coach
Coach Greenberg gives a detailed account of the half-court 1-3-1 trap, a great counter to other zone defenses played today. Areas covered include the responsibilities for each position, trap coverage and rotations, how to defend skip passes and dribble penetration, as well as rebounding assignments. Coach Greenberg also discusses how to use this defense to contain a dominant player. This is an excellent defense to disrupt opponents, change the pace of the game, and to create scoring opportunities... (more info)

Price: $39.99
Buy Now

Copyright © 2001 - 2016, James A. Gels, all rights reserved.

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