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Basketball Defense - 2-3 Zone Defense

By Dr. James Gels, from the Coach’s Clipboard Basketball Playbook
The 2-3 zone defense is the most common zone defense that we see. It has the advantage of protecting the inside, the "paint", and keeps your "bigs" inside. It's weakness is that it can be beaten by good outside shooting, with open areas on the wings, point and high post. Read "Zone Defense" for detailed tips on playing zone defense, and Zone Rebounding for tips on rebounding out of the zone.

Jim Boeheim
Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim has perfected the 2-3 zone

Oftentimes, we think of the 2-3 zone as a defense that less-athletic teams can use to force the offense to shoot from outside, while keeping the paint protected and your key rebounders inside. It is true that less athletic teams may have more success with this defense as it tends to shut down dribble-penetration and the inside post game. It usually requires the offense to be more patient in getting a good shot, and thus it gives you a way to help control tempo.

On the other hand, if you have good, quick athletes, the 2-3 zone can also be a more aggressive, trapping style of defense, creating turnovers and steals... but you must have quick athletic players to employ this type of defense. You can aggressively trap the corners, wings, and occasionally the point guard. Below are situations, with and without trapping. Study the diagrams below to understand the how the zone shifts, or moves.

A critical point

When the ball moves into the corner and the X4 defender moves out to cover the ball, it is imperative that the X5 defender slides over immediately into the low block vacated by X4. If X5 does not get there in time, the offense may get an easy pass into the low block, and a lay-up.

Ball on the wing.

See Diagram B. The outside (top) defender on the ball-side will cover the wing. The exception is on the skip pass from wing to the opposite wing, where the low outside defender will initially run out and defend until the top defender can get there... then the low defender will drop back down low. This is also the case on a very quick ball-reversal (diagram F).

X1 and X3 are consider the weakside defenders. X1 should play the gap between the high post (with a presence in denying the high post) and the point. X3 must have his/her back to the baseline, in good defensive stance with "head on a swivel" and see the floor so as to see a backside cutter, or a pin-screen or wing-corner skip-pass.

2-3 zone defense -ball on the wing, trapping the corner 2-3 zone defense -ball on the wing, trapping the corner

Villanova Coach Jay Wright and Villanova's rules for the 2-3 zone defense:

Trapping the Wing - "Fist-2" or "Fist-3"

If you have quick athletes, you can try this defensive stunt. See the diagram to the left. X1 will pick the O1 up high and try to force O1 to dribble to the side of the defensive call... "Fist-2" to the right, "Fist-3" to the left.

2-3 zone, trapping the wing

We start the opposite low defender X3 in the middle almost under the basket, so he/she can quickly rotate to the right block. X4 can start "cheating up" toward the wing. X2 lets the pass go to O2. Then X2 and X4 quickly close-out on O2 and double-team. X1 denies the pass back to O1, X5 denies the high post pass, and X3 denies the pass to the block.

It's "one trap and out". If the offense breaks the trap or passes out successfully, we just drop back into our usual 2-3 zone.

Ball in the corner, or short-corner.

See Diagram D. The outside low defender on the ball-side will cover the corner and short-corner. It's imperative that the middle X5 defender quickly drop to the ball-side block area to prevent a inside pass there. Here, X2 denies the pass back to the wing (their best shooter) while X1 covers the ball-side elbow (high post). Depending on the offense's strengths, we may instead have X2 sag inside the paint to help prevent O4 from dribble-penetrating (arrow).

2-3 zone defense -ball on the wing, trapping the corner 2-3 zone defense, defending the high post

See diagram C. The corner is a trapping opportunity if you have the quickness to do it. In addition to the outside low defender (X4) coming out, the top ball-side defender (X2) will sprint down and trap the corner. X1 will deny the pass back to the wing and X3 covers the elbow (high post). The long skip pass to the opposite wing is covered by quick reversal with X3 sprinting over and X1 dropping to the high post (diagram G)

Pass into the high post.

See Diagram E. Have your X5 defender come up to defend this (like a 2-1-2 zone now). But watch out for the underneath cutter in the paint. Your X3 and X4 defenders may have to cheat into the paint when X5 moves high.

2-3 zone defense, defending the high post 2-3 zone defense, defending the high post

Defending the point.

Defending the point is always problematic. If you know that their O2 guard is their best shooter, then have X1 defend the point at first and allow X2 to sag toward their good shooter. And just the opposite applies if O3 is their best shooter. At first you may decide to defend the point loosely, but if their O1 starts hitting some shots, you've got to get pressure there. Never let their point split the X1 and X2 defenders and dribble penetrate the middle. X1 and X2 really have to move quickly and work hard, and work together in order to cover the point and both wings, and give help in the high-post.

Trapping the Point

Diagram H below shows an aggressive "surprise" trap on the point guard. X1 and X2 run out and trap O1 as soon as O1 brings the ball across half-court. X3 and X4 run out and deny (or intercept) the pass to the wing. This is a gamble, and you may get an interception or a turnover, especially if the offensive set is a 3-out, 2-in (no high post). But this is not something you would do all the time, as it is obvious from the diagram that you could get burned by a quick pass from O1 to the high-post (free-throw line). You might make this a defensive call, like "Red" or "Hot".

2-3 zone defense, defending the skip pass 2-3 zone defense, defending the skip pass 2-3 zone defense, defending the skip pass

Covering the Skip Pass

Covering the skip pass from wing to wing, has been discussed above (diagram F). A skip pass from wing to opposite corner would be covered by the ball-side low outside defender.

Covering the skip pass from the corner to the opposite wing depends upon whether or not you have double-teamed the corner as in Diagram C. In the usual single-coverage (Diagram D), a skip pass from the corner to the opposite wing is covered by the opposite low outside defender (X3) who has back-side responsibility. Sometimes, a quick athletic X3 can anticipate the skip pass, jump out and intercept it and go for a lay-up. For example, in diagram F, as the ball is passed from the right corner to the left wing, X3 covers the receiver until X1 can rotate over, and then X3 will drop back down low. If the skip goes from the corner to the point, X1 should cover this (diagram F).

If you have double-teamed the corner (Diagram C), a long effective skip pass is less likely, but in this case would be covered as follows (see Diagram G):
1. Pass from right corner to left corner or wing... cover this with X3 defender.
2. Pass from right corner to point... cover the receiver with X1.

Players sometimes think playing a 2-3 zone defense is easier than man defense, but in fact, to play good zone defense, you may have to work much harder to be effective.

Coach Jim Boeheim - Syracuse:

Al Marshall on Weak Side Defender Rules from: Creating a Dominant 2-3 Zone Defense

Related pages:

Helpful DVDs:

Jim Boeheim's Complete Guide to the 2-3 Match-up Zone Defense

Jim Boeheim's Complete Guide to the 2-3 Match-up Zone Defense
By Jim Boeheim, Syracuse University Head Coach.

Price: $39.99
Buy Now

Al Marshall's Aggressive 2-3 zone Defense

Al Marshall's Aggressive 2-3 zone Defense - The Defense Your Opponents Will Hate!
By Al Marshall, head boys varsity coach at Cascade HS, Cascade, Iowa.

Price: $49.95
Buy Now

Copyright © 2001 - 2018, James A. Gels, all rights reserved.

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