Why I developed the “Ball Match Up Zone Defense”

Why I developed this defense?

Over the years, various zone defenses and zone principles in a man-to-man defense have been used to counter the opposition’s advantages such as: superior size and strength, superior athletic ability, foul trouble, a superstar scorer, and/or lack of fluid execution. Teams have also played zone to take advantage of assets such as: long-armed defensive players, skilled post defenders, and a continuation of a zone press.

With the recent emphasis on dribble penetration (with or without ball screens), lack of interior post scoring and sophisticated inbounds plays, many teams are playing zone defense during some points of a game. It is nearly impossible to document all versions of zone defense used throughout the history of the game, however the trend of increased use of zones is expected to continue. We like to play zone when we score and when the other team is inbounding under our defensive basket, while playing man-to-man when we miss a shot. We like to follow this strategy for at least the first half, and then make adjustments based on which tactic is disrupting the opposition more.

Our version of zone defense can be best described as a “Ball Matchup Zone Defense”. While most matchup zone defenses position defenders based off the point guard and offensive players to the left and right of the point, our defense positions players based on the location of the ball. This system has defensive shifting concepts that always position one help defender on each side of the ball while guarding players or an area one pass from the basketball, with the goal of having three offensive players being guarded by five defensive players.

As a coaching staff, we feel teaching multiple defenses can be simplified if the same principles can be used in a man-to-man defense and a zone. By teaching the same principles, practice time can be used efficiently and is less confusing to the players. Examples of principles that can be the same include:

  • Defensive Stance Guarding the Ball and Ball Pressure
  • On-the-Line, Up-the-Line or Ball-You-Man Triangle
  • Denying when the Dribble is Dead
  • Closeouts
  • Post Defense (including Rules for Double-Teaming the Post)
  • Rebounding Techniques
  • Jumping to the Ball and Moving on Air Time
  • Trapping Situations

The major difference in teaching defensive principles that we have encountered is in defending ball screens and off-ball screens, unless a coaching staff decides to switch on all screens. We like to trap the dribbler when playing man-to-man and just switch with the perimeter defenders in the zone (although we have trapped with the 5-man as well). With most teams using the ball screen during every offensive possession, we feel this is an excellent defense to contest action of the perimeter as well as offering basket protection.

We feel a great asset of this defense is the flexibility it offers. The concepts that will be reviewed throughout the book can be used in the half-court, three-quarter court, or as a full-court defense. The defense can trap the ball on the sideline or use run and jump techniques. With a simple command such as “HOME”, the defense can rotate into a straight zone formation or man-to-man defense. Again, this flexibility is possible because the defensive principles being taught are similar for both man or zone defense.

The two major rules that govern everything we review about the Ball Matchup Zone Defense are as follows:

  • When the ball is in the middle of the floor (area of the court the width of the lane), the defense has a 1-2-2 or 1-3-1 zone look.
  • When the ball is on the side, long corner, short corner, or block, the defense has a 2-3 zone look.

Click here for Introduction Clinic

Click for Why this defense? Clinic

The following chapters will review diagrams to teach these two rules, some different defensive tactics that can be used, and some drill ideas to help teach the defense.

Regardless of our defensive strategy being used, we have three main goals defensively, which are:

  1. Contain the ball one-on-one without help and without fouling
  2. Contest every shot without fouling
  3. Hold the opponent to 1 shot per possession

Defensive Goals Clinic

If our team is not doing these three items with a high amount of frequency, it does not matter what defensive strategy we are using, we are going to have to score a high number of points to have a chance to win the game. Great strategy with poor execution will still lead to uneven results.

I would like to acknowledge that there are no new ideas in basketball. All coaches pick up concepts from others and weave them into their own style of play. I would like to thank the following coaches whose ideas have helped form the foundations of this defense:

If you would like to know more about this defense, watch these videos or purchase the E-book.  The E-book contains diagrams and the videos to supplement the material.