Go to Archive Index August 1, 2013     Newsletter #17

Dear Coaches, Players, Friends,

Today's Quotes
"I told him, 'son, what is it with you, ignorance or apathy?' He said 'Coach, I don't know and I don't care.'" - Frank Layden, Utah Jazz president on a former player
"Son, looks to me like you're spending too much time on one subject." - Coach Shelby Metcalf, speaking to a player who received 4 F's and a D+ one semester

Today's theme is the "Pack Line Defense".

The pack-line defense is a variation of man-to-man defense developed by Dick Bennett for the Washington State University Cougars. Something similar has been used by Tom Izzo at Michigan State, Sean Miller, and many other coaches at the college and high school level. Having played against teams who use the packline, in my experience, it's a tough defense to crack, and the packline really slows us down and controls the tempo (we like a fast tempo game).

First understand the basic tenets of pressure man-to-man defense. There is probably no reason to use the pack line defense if you have excellent, quick athletes who are good defenders... just keep the intense pressure on, using the standard pressure man-to-man defense. On the other hand, the pack line defense may help less talented teams "hang in there" with better teams, and can also help a team having difficulty preventing point guard dribble-penetration.

The "pack line"
The pack line man-to-man defense is also called a "sagging" man-to-man defense. The idea is to clog the inside, protect the paint, and prevent dribble-penetration. Instead of defenders (whose man is one pass away) playing on the line in denial, they will sag back inside the imaginary "pack line". The pack line is an imaginary line two feet inside the 3-point arc. You will usually have one defender pressuring the ball outside, and the other four defenders inside the pack line. This allows the pass on the perimeter, but closes down the gaps and prevents dribble-penetration. The prime goal, as in any defense, is to stop the ball.

Pressure the ball
When the ball is on the perimeter, tight, harassing pressure should be applied by the defender. He/she must stop the ball, make the ball-handler uncomfortable, and make it difficult for the ball-handler to see the floor. The on-ball defender does his/her best to contain and pressure the ball, but if he/she is beaten, the pack line gapping defenders are there to give help and stop the ball. So the on-ball defender can have some confidence and trust that his teammates will be there to help, even if the opponent is a little quicker.

Stopping the gaps
It's pretty hard to do all three things... deny, help, and recover. In the pack line defense, gapping defenders only have to help and recover, and it is easier because the defender is already in position to give help. Gapping defenders are inside the pack line in a "ball-you-man" position, and must re-position themselves as the ball and the offensive players move. There is one instance wherein all players go into complete deny, and that is when there is a dead ball situation (the ball-handler has used up his/her dribble).

Close-out with "high hands"
Defenders should close-out with hands high in order to contest the outside shot, and then assume the usual defensive stance when the ball is put on the floor, or the initial shot is stopped. Yes, it is possible that the offensive player may attempt to dribble around the closing defender, but then we have the seams stopped with our other four defenders. When closing out, this does not mean "flying" or leaping at the ball. The defender must keep his feet on the floor and contain the ball. Once the defender has closed-out on the ball, he/she maintains good pressure on the ball.

Deny baseline
Another thing that is different from standard pressure man-to-man defense is that the ball is not forced to the baseline, but rather the baseline is denied. The ball is not actually forced to the middle... it's just that the baseline is denied.

Post defense
In defending the low post, defenders should be full-fronting when the ball is at the top, or in the corner. When the ball is on the wing, a 3/4 front from the top side is used by many coaches. This works with this defense because the wing defenders deny the baseline. If the ball does get into the post, you must decide whether you are going to play this with your post defender sliding between the ball and the basket and playing this 1-on-1, or whether you want to double-team with either the opposite post player, or a perimeter player. This may depend on your opponent... a strong post player, double-team the post. A weak post player and good outside shooters, play the post 1-on-1.

In defending the high post, try to deny that pass as well by 1/2-fronting. The defender must be careful however, not to get pinned outside and get beaten by the lob pass. The pack line defense tends to clog the high post fairly well due to the position of the gapping wing defenders.

In summary, the pack line defense will help a less-athletic team compete with a stronger, quicker team. And you still can use a full-court press, and then drop back into the half-court pack line defense. There are some disadvantages, however. If there is no shot clock, the offense can take as much time as they want, and you allow them to dictate a slower tempo. With the shot clock rule, as the offense gets deeper into the shot clock, there is more urgency to shoot, and the pack line defense is more effective here.

If you are behind late in the game, the offense can "run the clock", unless you come out and start denying passes. So the pack line defense is a problem here. Now you are caught in a situation of having to play deny defense with more pressure on the outside, and this is often difficult to do when you are not used to playing that way. In fact, it is usually easier for a typical pressure-deny man-to-man defense to drop back and play the pack line defense, than vice-versa. Some teams might want to use both... the usual man-to-man pressure defense (call it "Red"), and the pack line defense (call it "Blue"). Using the pack line defense can help a good man-to-man team that is having difficulty stopping a good point guard and dribble-penetration.

See: Packline Defense

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