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Basketball Offense - Attacking the Pack Line Defense

By Dr. James Gels, from the Coach’s Clipboard Basketball Playbook... lots of great basketball stuff. Come on - join today.

The pack-line defense is a sagging man-to-man defense developed by Dick Bennett for the Washington State University Cougars, and is used by his son Tony Bennett at UVA, Chris Mack when at Xavier, Sean Miller at University of Arizona, and others. See this article on the pack line defense to understand what the defense is trying to accomplish.

Briefly, the pack line defense pressures the ball while the other four defenders stay inside the imaginary pack line arc (diagram A) and clog the seams and paint. Off-ball defenders give early help on the dribble-drive and invite you to shoot 3-pointers off the drive and kick, with the assumption that your shooters can't make enough 3-pointers to beat them. Pack line defenders generally play cutters and screens physically, and the pack line usually forces a slower-paced tempo with fewer offensive possessions.

basketball pack line defense

So how can we attack the pack line defense? Here are some thoughts and things that we have tried with some success.

Quick Offensive Transition/Fast-Break

The pack-line is a tough defense to attack and requires patience once you are in the half-court set. But if you can attack with up tempo transition and an early attack, that's a good thing. A good fast-breaking team creates problems for the pack-line. So get the ball up the floor quickly before the defense can get set.


To help open the gaps for the dribble-drive, and to stretch the defense to get open 3-pointers, you must space your perimeter players out on the arc. In starting your offense, run the wings deep into the corners and go 4-out. Basket cutters should complete their cuts by filling all the way out to the arc and not clogging the paint and baseline... often I have had to tell players "don't get stuck on the baseline... get out after cutting!" Similarly, players involved in screens should get good separation and spacing after the screen.

Dribble-at/back-cuts help create spacing and defensive movement and confusion. Diagram 2 shows O1 dribbling at O3, and O3 cuts through while O2 rotates up to fill O1's spot. Diagram 3 shows O1 dribbling at O2, so O2 cuts through while O3 and O4 rotate over and up.

dribble-at, backcut another dribble-at, backcut

Drive and Kick

You have to be able to dribble-drive and kick out to the open teammate for a 3-pointer. But a couple caveats first... don't try to dribble-attack after the first pass to the wing. Use a ball-reversal before dribble-attacking.

The dribble-penetrator has to do so under control, and realize that he/she will probably not be able to get to the hoop. Instead, when the help comes, the dribbler may have to make a jump-stop and pivot, and pass to the open man. And then your shooters have to be able to hit some outside shots. Attack the offensive boards for put-backs.

See the images below to see several dribble attacks, the rotations, and the possible passes for each.

Dribble attack from the top (diagrams 4 and 5):

dribble-drive, top dribble-drive, top passing options

Dribble attack from the wing (diagrams 6 and 7):

dribble-drive, wing dribble-drive, wing passing options

Baseline dribble attack (diagrams 8 and 9):

dribble-drive, baseline dribble-drive, baseline passing options

Using the principles of Jerry Petitgoue's dribble-drive zone offense may also be a good way to attack the pack line defense.

2 or 3 Good Shooters

Since the pack line defense wants you to shoot 3-pointers, put two or three of your best outside shooters on the floor and let them shoot. If they can hit some three's, the pack line will have trouble and the opponent may have to change defenses.

See the complete article in the members section. The complete article also includes:
  • The Importance of Weakside Action
  • Screening
  • Attacking the Baseline
  • Use a Zone Offense

Helpful DVDs:

Matt Woodley: The Secrets of the Pack Line Pressure Defense

Matt Woodley: The Secrets of the Pack Line Pressure Defense
with Matt Woodley, Iowa Energy (NBADL) Head Coach; former Head Coach at Truman State; former Assistant Coach at Washington State under Tony Bennett.

Price: $49.99

Dick Bennett: The Pack-Line Pressure Defense

Dick Bennett: The "Pack-Line" Pressure Defense
By Dick Bennett, Washington State University Head Coach; former University of Wisconsin Head Coach.
Price: $39.99

Chris Mack: Drills to Build the Pack Line Defense

Chris Mack: Drills to Build the Pack Line Defense
with Chris Mack, former Xavier University Head Coach.
Price: $39.99

Building Blocks of the Pack Line Defense

Building Blocks of the Pack Line Defense
with Jim Boone, Delta State University Head Coach; former West Virginia Wesleyan Head Coach.
Price: $39.99

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