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When I was a graduate assistant at Rockhurst University for Bill O'Connor, we had success with our 1-2-2 zone defense.  While this was not our primary defense, we were successful in running the defense as a change-of-pace defense to force teams to shoot from the perimeter with greater frequency.

I have also seen several other teams have great success with press defenses in the half court and in three-quarter court using the 1-2-2 alignment.  These presses are effective in forcing the ball to one side of the floor and getting traps near the half court line in the area of the sideline.

Advantages of the 1-2-2 (3-2) Zone Defense and Half Court Trap

The zone has several advantages that should be taken into consideration when a coach wishes to utilize the 1-2-2 zone defense.  They include, but are not limited to:

  1. Adaptability to personnel.  The 1-2-2 zone defense can be used with three guards and two posts or two guards and three posts.  I will present an adjustment you can make to take advantage of your personnel if you have three forwards and two guards.

  2. Coverage of the point, wings and low post.  If you are playing a team that likes to run a three-out/two-in offense with a point guard, two wings and two low posts, the 1-2-2 zone defense can be an effective neutralizer. 

  3. Ability to extend the defense.  The 1-2-2 zone defense has the natural ability to be extended into a pressing defense.  Because of this, you are able to play more defenses that attack the other team's offense.  This will be discussed more in-length later in this article.

  4. Ability to dictate where your players will defend.  If you have defensive players you do not want guarding near your basket, the 1-2-2 zone allows you to hide them from playing post defense.  All you have to do is put your players where you feel they are best suited to play defense instead of having to determine a defensive match-up for each player.

  5. The zone is an attractive defense to start the fast break.  Because of the alignment of a point and two wings at the top of the zone, the formation of the defense is a great way to get players into their lanes and attack the basket with a three-man fast break and both posts trailing.

Disadvantages of the 1-2-2 (3-2) Zone Defense and Half Court Trap

However, there are also some disadvantages that need to be considered before deciding to use the 1-2-2 zone defense.  They include, but are not limited to:

  1. Inability to cover the middle of the lane.  Because the manpower of the defense is prepared to guard the point, wings, corners and posts, the middle of the zone becomes and inviting target for the offense.  If the ball is passed into the lane area from above the free-throw line extended, the defense needs to know who is responsible for covering the area.  Later in this article, I will discuss how the defense can cover the void in the middle of the zone.

  2. Like all zones, the offense can dictate the match-ups.  The offense can create mismatches by putting relatively weak defensive players against relatively strong offensive players.  Also, the offense can dictate where particular personnel can be set up against the defense.  When this happens, the zone really cannot adjust and the defense is caught in a bind.

  3. Like all zones, your players must either be quick or long with a preference for both.  Slow and short teams typically do not play great zone defense because they are not able to cover ground quickly.  Zones are advantageous for long and quick teams because they can shrink the size of the gaps in the zone better than shorter and slower players.  Because of this, teams with length and quickness prosper more in running a zone defense than those that are not.

  4. Zone defenses are relatively passive in nature.  Because the zone is designed to be packed inside the three-point arc, the defense is not looking to actively steal perimeter passes.  While some passes might be intercepted, the zone is not a great way to force turnovers.  Instead, the zone is designed to control the action from inside the three-point line and force several long shots.

Setting Up the Defense

We will start by putting X4 and X5 on the low blocks and they will be primarily responsible for protecting the low post area.  On occasion, we will ask them to guard the ball in the corners.  However, their chief role in the defense will be to prevent the ball from going into the low post area.

We will then place X2 and X3 at the wings of the zone.  These two players will guard the wings and work to prevent the ball from going into the high post area.  We do not want the ball to go to the elbows from the point as much as possible.  We also have rules for X2 and X3 when the ball is skipped above the free-throw line extended from the other side of the floor which we will detail later in the article.

We place X1 at the top of the free throw circle.  Since X1 will be the person most responsible for a fast break, we want to put him up near the top of the zone along with X2 and X3.  We also have rules for skip passes as it relates to X1 that will be mentioned later in the article as well as the rules for skip passes regarding X2 and X3.

If you are playing with three forwards, you can still run this offense by putting X3 at the point and X1 and X2 at the left and right wings respectively.

Diagram 1

1-2-2 (3-2) Zone Defense Slides

Diagrams 2-4 illustrate the slides of the 1-2-2 zone.  X1 guards the ball in the the point area, X2 and X3 will cover the ball when it is at the wing and X4 and X5 guard the ball when it is passed to the corner.  This is only done when there are no skip passes made to move the basketball.  Whenever the defense brings the ball across half court, we will not get into our slides until the first pass is made.

Diagram 2

Diagram 3

Diagram 4

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