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Man-to-man defense enables us to get pressure on the ball at all times ("on-ball defense"), while still protecting the basket ("helpside defense"). I love watching a well-coached team that plays great man-to-man pressure defense. Good man-to-man defense is a team defense, not just five individuals guarding their own man, but five players working together. Here is a good quote: "The best man defense looks like a zone and the best zone defense looks like a man." Here's the way we teach it.
How do you force the ball to the side? The on-ball defender at the top of the key, or on the wing, must close-out on the ball-handler with his sideline (outside) foot back and the middle (inside) foot forward. Have the defender put a little more of his/her weight on the front foot, so that if the ball-handler makes a quick dribble move toward the outside, the defender can push back off that front foot more quickly.
Some coaches deny the point to wing pass, but it might make more sense to let the pass go to the wing if we really want to force to the side. Once the ball is on the wing, we want to deny the pass back out to the point, and force the ball even further into the corner. Now realize that most often the pass to the low post comes from the wing. And once the ball gets into the low post, most of the time bad things happen... they either score or we foul. So it is very important to teach your post defenders to front the low post as the ball moves to the wing and corner areas. We must deny that pass into the post. But what about the "over-the-top" lob pass? First of all, this pass is a difficult pass to consistently complete... it is often thrown too high and out-of-bounds. But when this pass is made, the opposite low post defender (in "helpside") must immediately rotate over to double-team that pass, while the opposite wing defender (who should already be inside the paint in helpside) rotates down to cover the opposite low block.
Some believe the wing defenders should play "on the line" and prevent the pass to the wing player. By denying the pass to the wing, you may be preventing one of their better shooters from getting the ball. Also, since the entry pass to the low post most often comes from the wing, you are making it more difficult for the offense to get the ball into the low post by contesting two passes (the point to wing pass, and the wing to low post pass). The disadvantages of this strategy include (1) the wing defender getting beat by the back-cut, and (2) dribble penetration up the lane by point guard who can shoot or dish off to the low post.
On the other hand, some coaches want to get the ball out of the point guard's hands and allow the pass to the wing uncontested, but then deny the pass back to the point guard. This philosophy has the ball getting into the hands of players who may not be as skilled as the point guard. This helps stop the point guard from being a big factor, but may allow easier access to the low post.
So which philosophy is best? As is often the case in this game, I think you have to be flexible and adapt your strategy according to the team you are playing. If your opponent has strong wing shooters, or likes to get the ball into the low post with a pass from the wing, then try to take this away from them by denying the wing pass. If the opponent's strength is their excellent point guard who likes to dribble penetrate, then pressure the point guard, have X2 and X3 sag inside more (deny the seam), and allow the pass to the wing. Then aggressively deny the pass back to the point and keep the ball out of his/her hands.
Defenders whose man is two passes away are in "helpside", and are "up the line" sagging into the lane (paint) area. This helpside positioning almost looks like a zone away from the ball and puts our defenders in a better position to help prevent inside passing and dribble-penetration. Helpside defenders should never lose sight of their man and should use their peripheral vision to always see the ball and their man. Some coaches call this the "pistols position" pretending that your index fingers are pistols, with one pistol pointing at the ball and the other pointing at your man. Some use the term "ball-you-man" to emphasize this point. Once the ball gets down in the corner, all helpside defenders should have one foot on the helpside line (Diagram B). You can see in this diagram that our X5 defender is in a good position to slide over and provide backside defense to the over-the-top lob pass to O4. And X4 is in a good position to deny the pass to O4 and also deny dribble-penetration by O2 (Diagram C). Also notice how X5 and X3 rotate in this situation. Also notice in Diagram B, that whenever the ball is below the free throw line, the helpside defenders should have one foot on the helpside line.
Now notice in Diagram D below how the defense shifts and rotates on the "skip pass" across court to O3. Not shown in the diagram, if O4 flashes to the ball-side elbow, X4 will move up and try to keep a hand in front denying O4 that pass, while X2 (in helpside) can drop down a little lower in the paint in the event of the over-the-top lob pass to O4.
In Diagram E, O3 tries to dribble-penetrate. The X1 defender gives help and O3 is prevented from penetrating, and has to dish back out to O1 (Diagram F). The X1 defender then has to rotate quickly out to on-ball defense on O1, and the X2, X3 and X4 defenders are now in deny, while the X5 defender moves into help-side (Diagram F). Important teaching point... in teaching help and recover, you must teach and drill your help defenders to move their feet quickly to establish position to prevent the dribble move... they must not simply "reach-in" and take a swipe at the ball.
We want our defender on the point guard to play fairly "straight-up", and even over-guard the offensive player's right or left side, depending on which way he/she likes to go. The point defender must work hard and play defense with his/her feet and stay in front of the offensive player, and not just "reach-in" and swipe at the ball. We often have to make adjustments depending on the offense's strengths and weaknesses. If their point guard mainly is a penetrator, we have our point defender back off a step and invite the outside shot instead. We will have our wing defenders "hedge" and give "help and recover" in trying to deny dribble-penetration (see above). Move the wing defenders a little "up the line" into the gaps (see diagram). But they must always see the ball and their man, and not get beaten by the wing back-cut.
If the ball is passed back out to the point, X4 will quickly slide under and around O4 (not over) and again full-front when the ball is at the top. We have our post defender slide under (rather than over) the offensive player because if X4 went over, he/she could be sealed outside, and be vulnerable to a quick pass inside. Also, sliding under gives us inside rebounding position. Your post defenders must work hard with good footwork to accomplish this.
We also want to keep the ball out of the high post (elbow or free-throw line area). Here we will 1/2 or 3/4 front the high post. The technique here is for the defender to keep his feet between his man and the basket but have one arm and hand wrapped around in front of the high post player in the passing lane.
Double-teaming a dominant low post player. See the diagrams below. Against a star post player, 1/2 or 3/4 front as usual from the baseline side. When the ball does get into the low post, double-team it with your helpside wing defender (X3). X4 prevents O4's baseline move while X3 stops the move to the lane. X2 denies the pass back out to O2. X1 slides into the gap between O1 and O3, to cover the skip pass.
Some teams double-team by having X2 (ball-side wing defender) slide down inside to double-team. We don't like this for two reasons:
(1) Usually X2 is too slow getting there, and has a bad angle in preventing O4's move to the lane.
(2) This leaves O2 wide-open for a quick pass back outside, and an open three-point shot.
Defending this way keeps our weakside post defender X5 on O5, (no size mis-match). Notice that this rotation is different from baseline dribble-penetration (where X5 sprints over to the ball, and X3 drops to the backside).
This is preferable to double-teaming with the opposite post player, as that would leave the remaining offensive post player unguarded, or guarded by the smaller X3. Using the opposite wing to double may make you susceptible to the opposite wing kick-out and three-pointer (diagram C). To defend that outside shot, the X1 defender closes-out on the skip pass, and takes the ball. If the pass goes to O3, X1 takes O3, while X3 sprints out to take O1. We call this a defensive "X-cut". X2 moves into helpside.
See below about defending inside, post screens.
An important point is the concept of "jumping to the ball" (see left diagram below). As the ball moves (either pass or dribble), defenders should "jump to the ball", or move a step or so toward the ball. Not only does this help deny the pass, but also puts the defender in the cutter's path and the defender has a better chance of bumping and denying the cutter. All defenders should learn to react to just about every movement of the ball.
One special circumstance... defending the curl cut. See the diagrams below. A good quick guard will sometimes run down low and curl around a post player in order to lose his man. I believe the best defense here is for the defender to "chase" the offensive player around the screen as closely as possible. Sometimes I'll see the defender instead just drop back outside thinking the cutter will be coming back out to his original spot or the perimeter. The right-hand diagram below illustrates the error in this thinking. A good offensive player will read this and pop out to the corner instead for the skip pass and open three-pointer.
Inside post screens should be switched, since you usually do not end up with a size-quickness mis-match here (see below). On outside perimeter screens, you must decide whether you want to switch these screens, try to fight over them, or slide through (under) them. Switching on the outside could occasionally lead to size and quickness mis-match, especially if a post player steps outside to set a screen for a guard.
Several important points on the jump-switch...1. The three remaining defenders must be ready to give help if O1 rolls off the pick inside and gets the pass over the top.
2. X1 must jump out, stop and contain the dribbler.
3. The jump-switch works well even if the ball-handler is within shooting range and is a good shooter.
4. We also jump switch the hand-off screen (weave screen).
If our weakside wing X3, for some reason, is not in helpside and gets screened (diagram J), we switch this screen. The screened defender X3 drops a step or two back just before the screen arrives ("steps under") and avoids getting sealed outside by the screener... a "step under and switch".
Inside Post ScreensAs stated above, it is best to switch inside screens. Here you are usually not giving up a size or quickness advantage, and switching gives us the best chance to deny the pass into the low post.
When defending inside, lateral post screens, the screened defender always "steps under" (takes a giant step back toward the baseline) - diagram K.
If the cutter goes low (baseline side), the screened defender gets an arm bar up and stays with her/his man (no switch)... "step under and stay" (diagram K2). The key is... the defender getting screened must step back toward the baseline before the screen actually arrives.
If the cutter goes high (over the screen), then the defenders switch... "step under and switch" (diagrams L and L2). Again, the screened defender always steps-under (toward the baseline) just before the screen arrives.
The danger with any inside lateral post screen is for our screened defender to get pinned inside. This should not happen if the screened defender "steps under" the screen. After stepping-under, she/he can easily get into the ½ fronting position from the baseline side.
Again the rules for defending lateral inside post screens are:
In addition, deny the pass inside by having your inbounds defender play a "one-man zone" in the paint denying that pass. In the diagram below left, X3 drops off the inbounder into the paint, looking to deny any pass inside and lay-up. But once the pass goes outside, he/she must move quickly back on the inbounder (O3), who may step out to the corner for the outside shot (below right).Again, the rules for defending baseline inbounds plays are:
Related pages: Teaching Defense and How to Defend Screens by Progression, Defending the Pick and Roll, Basic Defense, Shell Drill, Man-to-Man Breakdown Drills, Man-to-Man Positioning Drill, 1-on-1 Drill, and Close-Out Drills.
Bob Knight: Advanced Tactics & Techniques for Man-to-Man Defense
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 brings you the most complete defensive video ever produced. From the moment your defense is in transition to the block-out on the rebound and everything in between, Knight teaches and demonstrates the most critical aspects of man defense... (more info)
Dick Bennett's Pressure Defense: A System
By Dick Bennett, Washington State University Head Coach; former University of Wisconsin Head Coach. This video is a simplified approach to pressure man-to-man defense. It includes: Chalkboard Sessions, Actual Game Analysis, On-Court Drills and Drill Explanations. Few coaches have had teams play defense the way Dick Bennett's teams play. His teams have led the nation in team defensive average over the past several years... (more info)
Mike Anderson: '40 Minutes of Hell' (Vol. 2)
with Mike Anderson, University of Missouri Head Coach.
Hard play and pressure defense are the backbone of Coach Anderson's teams. Stance, hands, balance and closeness to the offensive player are very important principles to Anderson. Using an overhead, Anderson diagrams his defensive system. Ball pressure, anticipation, rotation and trapping are key terms in this system. On ball pressure, trapping corners on the baseline, making the sideline an extra man, using the half court line, trap with opportunity, and rotation round out the keys to this defensive. The progression of this defense starts with... (more info)
Bob Huggins: Smothering Pressure Defense - Dominating the Box
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).
Coach Huggins' teams are known for their aggressive, no nonsense approach to playing the game. This DVD focuses on pressure defense and how Huggins' teams have always thrived on pressuring the opponent. Pressure defense starts with an emphasis on guarding the ball, steering the ball and putting the ball in areas for trapping purposes. The box theory states that the ball is pushed to a side, therefore making the size of the box smaller. The smaller the box, the less area there is to defend... (more info)
Jeff Lebo: Half-Court Trapping and Double-Teaming in the Post
with Jeff Lebo, University of Auburn Head Coach.
Coach Lebo presents step-by-step instruction on how to design and employ an effective man-to-man, pressure-oriented defense. Lebo builds the defense using drills to teach proper rotations for stopping penetration, slowing down teams in transition, defending back cuts and screens, stopping baseline penetration, and much more. This video also includes shell, post defense, and box-out drills. Lebo teaches the four fundamentals of trapping and double-teaming in the post. He teaches how... In addition, Lebo includes concepts from his days at the University of North Carolina where he played for Coach Dean Smith. (more info)
You can create your own simple breakdown drills to teach the above principles. Or get Coach Bob Huggins' (University of Cincinnati) excellent book, "Building a Man-to-Man Defense". This booklet is loaded with drills on teaching these man-to-man concepts.