Go to Archive Index February 1, 2013     Newsletter #5

Dear Coaches, Players, Friends,

Today's theme is attacking zone defenses.

Today's Quote
"I hate it. It looks like a stickup at 7-Eleven. Five guys standing there with their hands in the air." - Norm Sloan, on zone defense


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Today's Theme... Zone Offense - Attacking Zones

Zone defenses create special problems for the offense. Plays and sets designed to be successful against man-to-man coverage often run into problems against zones. You must have a "zone offense(s)" in your offensive arsenal to counteract zone defenses. We use two zone offenses, called "zone 1" and "zone 2". These are designed to be used against a zone with a two-guard defensive front ("zone 1"), and a zone with a one-guard defensive front ("zone 2").

General pointers in attacking any zone defense.
  1. Beat the defense up the floor.
    If it is your team's offensive style, fast-break and push the ball up the floor as quickly as possible, before the defensive zone can get set.

  2. Full-court press on defense
    This favors a "transition type", wide-open, up-tempo game. A slow-down, half-court game allows the zone defense to be more effective.

  3. Analyze the zone
    What kind of zone set are you facing, 2-3, 1-2-2, etc? Then set your offense accordingly. If the defense shows a two-guard front (e.g. 2-1-2 or 2-3 zone), use a one-guard set, with a point guard, in order to "split" the two outside defenders.

    Just the opposite applies if the defense shows a one-guard front (e.g. 1-3-1, or 1-2-2 zone). In this case, use a two-guard set to "flank" the single outside defender.

  4. Patience
    Be patient on offense, but take the first open, good percentage shot. Make sure your best shooters are getting their shots. It's always easy to just settle for outside shots against zones. But you still must get the ball inside. We have a rule that (except in transition), before any outside shot goes up, we must have one post touch first (either low or high post).

  5. Offensive rebounding
    Crash the offensive boards as a zone defense often does not have clear-cut box-out assignments, and extra, high-percentage shots can be gotten off the offensive rebound.

  6. Maintain good spacing
    Stretch the zone with a pass to a wing or corner, and then skip pass to the opposite side. Don't get "bunched up" Players should move into the gaps and passing lanes in the zone. "Overload" zones by flooding areas of the zone with more offensive players than it can cover.

  7. Attack the gaps, but avoid unnecessary dribbling
    Unnecessary dribbling allows the defense time to adjust or reset. However, guards and wings should look to dribble-penetrate the gaps in the zone, and look to dish off inside. Another good option is the "penetrate and pitch back"... when someone dribble-penetrates, the next perimeter player over rotates into the spot vacated by the dribbler. Now, as the dribbler sucks that perimeter defender inside, he/she can stop, pivot and pass back out to where he/she came from, which will be wide open for the 3-point shot.

  8. You must get the ball inside
    Get the ball inside for high-percentage shots. It's OK to take the outside jumper or three-pointer, but don't settle for the outside shot on every possession (see pointer #4 above). You must find a way to get inside to be successful. You must be able to get those important "points in the paint". Having success inside will cause problems for the defense, may result in their getting into foul trouble, and will open up your outside shot when the defense collapses inside. When the ball goes inside, if it is well-defended, go "inside-out" with a quick pass out for a wide-open three-pointer.

  9. Use crisp passing
    And use the "skip" pass from corner to opposite wing, and wing to opposite corner. Look for the lob pass to the baseline and back-door. Passers should use ball-fakes, where they fake a shot or fake an overhead pass in one direction to get the zone to move, then pass in the opposite direction. Reverse the ball from side to side a few times and the zone often falls apart and gets out of position. Pass-fakes are very effective in opening passing lanes against zones.

  10. Screen the zone
    Set screens against the zone, both inside and outside. Players should make cuts into the open areas, and look to the weak-side, or "back-door". You can design and use set plays against zones (2-3 Zone Offense Plays), often taking advantage of screening either the backside of the zone (followed by a skip pass), or screening inside.

    I like the "pin and skip"... e.g. vs the 2-3 zone, using a 1-3-1 set, we get the ball to a wing. Then the baseline post player, instead of cutting to the ball-side, stays opposite and back-screens (pin-screens) the weakside low defender, as the ball is skip-passed over from the wing to the weakside corner for a wide open 3-pointer. If the low outside defender slips around the screen and runs to the ball, a quick pass inside to the post is usually there. See "Screening the Zone".

  11. Triple-threat position on the perimeter
    Make sure your players receive the ball in "triple-threat" position, ready to shoot, look inside and pass, or penetrate. Don't allow perimeter players the bad habit of catching and dribbling. Unless there is a gap for a quick attack to the hoop, players should receive the pass in triple-threat position.

  12. One last strategy:
    If you have the lead and the opponent switches to zone defense, and if you are not confident that you can beat their zone, you can refuse to play against it. Instead, you go into a "4-corners" delay offense. Since you have the lead, they will have to eventually come out a play you man-to-man. Of course, this strategy won't work if there is an offensive shot clock rule. Also, if your forte is a fast-breaking style, going to a delay game may be the worst thing you can do!

Helpful articles:
Helpful DVDs:
Jim Boeheim's Complete Guide to Zone Offense
Jim Boeheim's Complete Guide to Zone Offense
Geno Auriemma: The Simplified Zone Offense
Geno Auriemma: The Simplified Zone Offense
Bill Self: Basic and Motion 3-Out 2-In Zone Offenses
Bill Self: "Basic" and "Motion" 3-Out 2-In Zone Offenses


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New Articles/Content:
New or revised website articles:
Michigan State Tom Izzo's "Fist-Down" Zone Play.
Updated the "Playing the Point Guard Position" article.

See the complete "What's New" list.


Out of the Past...
More on Dr. James Naismith...
We discussed Dr. James Naismith inventor basketball in Newsletter #1. Naismith never patented his game, and did not profit from it. Lawyers advised him to get a patent, but he was always adamantly opposed to it. At one point his personal finances were so bad that his house in Kansas was repossessed by the bank.

The first public game was in Armory Hill YMCA on March 11, 1892, with a crowd of 200 on hand, as the students beat the teachers 5-1. Amos Alonzo Stagg (the football coach) scored the only point for the teachers. The first women's game was March 22, 1893 at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts. The first college game was Feb. 9, 1895... Minnesota State School of Agriculture beat Hamline 9-3. The first women's college game was in April 1895 between Stanford and California. The first men's professional league began in 1898 and was known as the National Basketball Association (but not the same NBA as today). The first national AAU basketball tournament was in 1897. Wisconsin claims to be the first state with a high school state tournament, which was won by Fond du Lac in 1905. High school basketball attracted national attention 12 years later in 1917.



eBasketballDrills.com by UMass head coach Derek Kellogg
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Till next time...
Best wishes,
Dr. Jim Gels, aka "Coach Gels"
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