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Thanks to the success of West Virginia and Michigan in recent seasons, the 1-3-1 zone defense is making a comeback in basketball.  Originally designed by basketball coaching legend Clair Bee, this zone defense has the ability to force a team into mistakes whether it is with bad shot selection from the perimeter or in forcing the offense to a corner and keeping them in that corner.

Advantages of the 1-3-1 Zone Defense

The best advantage of the 1-3-1 zone defense is the ability to take away the middle of the floor.  The 1-3-1 zone defense forces the defense to one side of the floor or the other and has the ability to front both the high and low post areas.  The zone can also provide help in the post when the ball is swung to the corner.

Another advantage of the 1-3-1 zone defense is that it can keep the center close to the basket.  Like the 2-3 or 2-1-2 zone defense, the 1-3-1 zone defense is effective in keeping a dominant center close to the basket and in position to front the post and to rebound.

Finally, the 1-3-1 zone defense is versatile with the ability to trap and extend.  In addition to the slides that are shown in this article, this article will also detail the ways that the zone can be used to trap and extend in an effort to create more turnovers and attack with this defense.

Disadvantages of the 1-3-1 Zone Defense

Since the 1-3-1 zone is a strong defense in taking away the middle of the floor, the perimeter is compromised, especially in the corners.  A player who can hit shots from the corner, especially three-point shots, can be a headache for this defense.

Also, two other weaknesses of all straight zones arise from the 1-3-1 zone.  The first of these is the difficulties rebounding the basketball.  Because the zone has the players guarding area, it is difficult for zone defenders to block out effectively.  Because zones force long shots, they will also force long rebounds which could play to the advantage of the offense.

The other weakness is with match-ups.  Because the zone guards area, the offense can dictate the match-up with the defense.  The four outside defenders (X1, X2, X3, and X4) must all be competent and capable on-ball defenders and X5 must be a force in the middle for this defense to be effective.

Setting Up the Defense

In putting the defense together, we want to set up X1 at the point, X2 and X3 at the wings, X4 just in front of the basket and X5 just below the middle of the free throw line (Diagram 1).  X1 is the best on-ball defended while X2 is the second-best on-ball defender.  X5 is the best big man and X4 is the next best big man.

Diagram 1

Basic Slides

Once the players are in position to set up the zone, the players are taught how to move and get into the right spots in the zone.  For this defense or any other straight zone defense to be effective, the players must be quick and jump to the pass.

The ball is passed from the point to the wing in Diagram 2.  X2 will point the ball while X4 and X5 cover the low and high posts respectively.  X3 slides to an area just below the help-side elbow and X1 will move to where the lane line-extended and the top of the circle-extended meet in an effort to keep the ball on the same side of the floor.

In Diagram 3, the ball is passed to the corner from the wing.  Here, we want X4 to point the ball with X5 fronting the low post.  X2 will look to deny the pass back to the corner while X1 will cover the high post area and X3 protects the help-side low post just inside the lane. 

Diagram 4 shows the end result of where the defensive players should be when the ball is passed into the corner.  From here, we should be able to keep them in the corner with the right pressure.  This will then force them into shooting low percentage shots from the corner or making an errant pass that can be intercepted by the defense.

Diagram 2

Diagram 3

Diagram 4

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