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Basketball Offense - Attacking the 1-3-1 Zone Defense

By James Gels, from the Coach’s Clipboard Basketball Playbook, @
There are a number of ways of attacking the 1-3-1 zone defense, but most success will come with attacking from the corner or short corner, and underneath the zone. Screening the low defender and back-screening the middle defender create opportunities as well.

As in any zone offense, we move the ball with good quick passing, use skip passes, look to dribble penetrate the gaps, and drive and dish (either inside to a post player, or a kick out to the opposite side for a 3-point shot).

Also, we try to take of advantage of how the defense covers the corner. As in any zone offense, attacking the offensive boards for rebounds is important for second and third shots, especially since there is only one inside defender.

Zone Offenses vs the 1-3-1 Zone

  • "Zone-2" - adapting the "Zone-2" offense to the 1-3-1
  • "Corners" - 4-Out Zone Offense
  • "Zone-23" - adapting the 2-3 zone offense to the 1-3-1

Set Plays vs the 1-3-1 Zone

"Zone-2" - adapting the "Zone-2" offense to the 1-3-1

Use a two-guard front to attack the 1-3-1 zone defense, and attack it from the corner where it is most vulnerable. See the "Zone-2" offense. Put O2 (your best shooter) in the ball-side corner. O2 runs the baseline, always to the ball-side corner. Have both posts low on opposite sides of the lane.

In the first diagram, O1 engages the top outside defender with the dribble, and passes to O2 in the corner. After the ball is passed into the corner, the weak-side post can flash to the ball-side elbow. If nothing is there, reverse it back out and to the opposite side.

1-3-1 zone offense - zone-2, runner offense 1-3-1 zone offense - zone-2, runner offense 1-3-1 zone offense - zone-2, runner offense

After a ball-reversal or two, things tend to open up much better. Notice how the corner is defended, especially after ball-reversal. In diagram C, if the low X5 defender runs out to the corner to defend O2, a quick pass to the ball-side low post is sometimes open for the lay-up... note that for this to work, O4 must "stay" on the opposite side.

"Corners" - 4-Out Zone Offense

See the 4-Out Zone Offense. Notice in the diagram below how we position the 4 outside players. O1 and O3 are on top staggering the X1 defender, and O2 and O4 are below the free-throw line, half-way between the wing and the corner. O5 will have a better chance of getting open on the low blocks, since there is only one low defender (X5), but he/she can move up to the elbows and high post as well.

Perimeter players should keep the ball moving with quick passes, including skip passes. By reversing the ball back and forth, we should be able to stretch the zone and really make them tired chasing the ball. Patience is a key in running this offense.

Quick perimeter passing, reversing the ball from side-to-side, and skip passing should eventually cause the zone to become over-shifted and out of position... creating open shots, chances to pass into the post, and gaps that our outside players can attack.

Corners 4-out zone offense Corners 4-out zone offense Corners 4-out zone offense

Notice in diagram B how O1 engages the top outside X2 defender with the dribble. This makes the pass to O2 easier. O2 can shoot, but if X5 runs out to defend O2, O5 might be open for the quick pass inside. Again, ball-reversal tends to open things up. Notice in diagram C, after a skip pass, O4 could shoot. But if the X3 defender flies out, O4 should shot-fake and dribble baseline for the lay-up or short jump-shot.

"Zone-23" - adapting the 2-3 zone offense to the 1-3-1

Usually we think of attacking a zone with a "one guard front" (like the 1-3-1 or 1-2-2 zone), with a two-guard offense. But we have discovered that we can use "Zone-23", our standard 2-3 zone offense, in attacking the 1-3-1 zone.

The "Zone-23" offense uses a 1-3-1 set, which positions us directly lined up with the defenders, instead of in the gaps. With this, the zone defenders tend to "match-up", almost like man-to-man.

A trapping 1-3-1 defense that likes to trap the wings and corners may have a more difficult task with our "zone-23", as with three perimeter players, there is usually an easy pass out of the trap. The defense tends to "stay at home" more.

But probably the main reason this offense works is because it attacks the zone from the short corner, and below the zone, which is where it is weakest. Here, we'll discuss how to use it against the 1-3-1 zone.

In the left diagram below, notice how O1 makes the pass to the wing a little easier, by dribbling at the X2 defender. O2 pops out for the pass. This pass is usually not too difficult, as most zone defenses don't deny outside passes very well. O5 runs short corner to short corner, always on the ball-side, and we try to pass from the wing to O5 in the short corner.

If O5 is a good shooter, we allow O5 to take the shot from the short corner, or take his defender 1-on-1 with a shot-fake and dribble-penetration along the baseline. Meanwhile, O4 seals the middle defender, and then cuts hard up the lane to the hoop for the pass from O5 and lay-up.

1-3-1 zone offense zone-23 offense 1-3-1 zone offense zone-23 offense 1-3-1 zone offense zone-23 offense

We look at penetrating the gaps. Diagram B shows how O3 might be able to attack the top seam in the zone. Sometimes we can open this gap a little with a pass fake to O2 or O1, and get the X4 and X1 defenders to lean opposite. If O3 is able to split the X3 and X4 defenders, he/she will have a 2-on-1 inside with a possible dish to O4, our weak-side post. Or, O3 might kick the pass out to a wide open O2, for the 3-point shot.

Diagram C shows a skip pass, and the zone is over-shifted. O3 might have an open 3-point shot. But if the X3 defender is flying out out-of-control, O3 should shot-fake and dribble baseline for the lay-up, or pass to O5 inside.

Set Plays vs the 1-3-1


Using an inside screen. Refer to the diagrams below. O2 runs the baseline, always in the ball-side corner. The ball-side post (O4) is positioned halfway up the lane, near the elbow. We once again pass to the corner. O2 can shoot the 3-pointer or dribble-penetrate the baseline.

1-3-1 zone offense - set play 4 1-3-1 zone offense - set play 4 1-3-1 zone offense - set play 4

Meanwhile O4 screens the middle defender in the zone, resulting in a 2-on-1 situation with O2 driving to score, or dish off to O5 (Diagram B). The screener O4 must be aware of the three-second violation, but if the initial screen is set above the free-throw line, O4 could release up the middle as another option (Diagram C).


See the diagrams below. Set O3 and O4 on the blocks and O5 at the free-throw line. Use a two-guard front (Diagram A). O1 draws the defense and passes to O4 who has cut out to the corner. O5 now cuts to the ball-side block for the pass (Diagram B).

1-3-1 zone offense - set play 45 1-3-1 zone offense - set play 45 1-3-1 zone offense - set play 45

If the pass to the block is not open, usually O2 will be open for the skip pass on the opposite wing (Diagram C). O2 can shoot the outside shot or pass into either O3 or O5 who should have good position after pinning their defenders.


When we are looking for a 3-point shot, we can call "22". See diagram C above. Here, we run the play exactly the same as "45", but have O3 and O1 back-screen the zone so that O2 is wide open for the pass and shot.

"24" & "34"

Against the 1-3-1 zone, we screen both the low X5 defender and the middle X4 defender... (more)

"24-Wide" & "34-Wide"

Here, we start the same as "24" above. This time, O2 cuts out to the corner for the pass... (more)


Against the 1-3-1 zone, we start with O2 dropping to the corner (to take the X2 defender down), and O1 dribbles toward the right seam... (more)

For even more good 1-3-1 zone plays... become a Premium Member or get the Deluxe CD or downloads to get the complete article and animation. The complete article also includes these special plays:
  • 24 and 34
  • 24-Wide and 34-Wide
  • 35

Related pages:

Helpful DVD's:

Bob Knight: Encyclopedia of Zone Offense

Bob Knight: Encyclopedia of Zone Offense
with Bob Knight, former head coach at Texas Tech and Indiana University; Over 900 career wins, 3X National Championship Coach, Five Final 4 appearances; 4X National Coach of the Year;1984 US Men's Olympic Coach (Gold Medal)

Bob Knight opens his championship playbook and shows you how to beat zone defenses. Using the same concepts he used to amass over 900 career wins and three national titles, Knight doesn't just coach his zone offense, he teaches it.

In this on-court clinic presentation, Coach Knight teaches you everything you need to know about playing against a zone defense.... (more info)

Price: $119.99
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Defeating the 1-3-1 Zone Defense

Running & 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
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Coach Izzo teaches his 1-3-1 set for attacking zone defenses

Tom Izzo: The 1-3-1 Zone Offense
with Tom Izzo, Michigan State University Men's Basketball Head Coach, 2000 NCAA Champs, 3X National "Coach of the Year"
Get an insider's view into the Michigan State playbook with this fantastic DVD instructed by Coach Tom Izzo. These set plays have led Tom Izzo and his program to one NCAA National Championship title, four Final Fours, and eight NCAA appearances in his ten years as a Division I head coach. Coach Izzo has won 77% of his games utilizing these set plays. This video will demonstrate ways to take advantage of any type of zone defense... (more info)

Price: $39.99
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Coach Self teaches how to attack zone defenses

Bill Self: "Basic" and "Motion" 3-Out 2-In Zone Offenses
with Bill Self, University of Kansas Head Coach; 2008 NCAA Champions
Bill Self focuses on seven principles for effective zone offense and teaches you the Jayhawks' "basic" and "motion" 3-Out 2-In Zone Offense. He walks you through the necessary techniques of both the perimeter and post players such as quick ball movement, skip passing, lob passing, utilizing the short corner and using high/low motion. Self also demonstrates drills that any coach at any level can use to enhance the continuity in the zone offense. He discusses responsibilities and reads and demonstrates the cuts, screens and movement for every position. As a bonus, Self also includes a handful of quick-hitter plays and out-of-bounds baseline plays... (more info)

Price: $39.99
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Coach Boeheim teaches zone offense

Jim Boeheim's Complete Guide to Zone Offense
with Jim Boeheim, Head Coach, Syracuse University, 2003 NCAA Champions!!
Coach Boeheim, one of the most respected minds on the zone and match-up zone defense, now shares on video, for the first time ever, his views on how to take advantage of any zone defense. Coach Boeheim's zone offensive principles are simple: ball movement, man movement, and patience. He uses each of these principles in teaching a zone offense which can be run against a 2-3, 3-2, 1-3-1, and match-up zone (odd or even fronts). He combines chalkboard instruction with on-court demonstration and game clips. In addition, he covers the techniques necessary to effectively attack any zone with these offenses that include... (more info)

Price: $39.99
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Coach K teaches how to attack zone defenses

Mike Krzyzewski: Duke Basketball Attacking the Zone
with Mike Krzyzewski "Coach K", Duke University Head Men's Basketball Coach; NABC "Coach of the Decade," 12X NABC "Coach of the Year," Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame (2001), 5X NCAA National Championships
In an energetic and information-packed on-court presentation, Coach Krzyzewski explains the zone offense and principles he uses in attacking a half-court zone defense. Krzyzewski believes the secret to effective zone offense is to keep it simple by running one highly effective offense that can be utilized against even the most potent defenses. Coach Krzyzewski has designed a zone offense that is easy to implement and impossible to stop! In addition, Coach K shares the five major components... (more info)

Price: $44.99
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Geno Auriemma: The Simplified Zone Offense

Geno Auriemma: The Simplified Zone Offense
Head Women's Coach UConn, 2015 NCAA Championship Coach; 10x NCAA Women's Basketball National Championships; , 8X National "Coach of the Year"
In an exciting on-court presentation, Coach Auriemma teaches simple strategies for beating a zone defense that are easy to implement and impossible to stop! Auriemma provides drills, strategies and player positioning to help your perimeter and post players beat the zone. He demonstrates a 3-2 Zone Offense and a 1-3-1 Zone Offense that include similar principles, but will confuse your opponents. In addition, Coach Auriemma also gives you eight quick-hitter zone plays... (more info)

Price: $39.99
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Copyright © 2001 - 2016, James A. Gels, all rights reserved.

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