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2-3 (2-1-2) ZONE DEFENSE

With the recent success of teams like Syracuse and Baylor in their use of the 2-3 zone defense, coaches and teams are interested in finding out more about this scheme that has produced national champions and stifled offenses at various levels of the game.  Here is a look at this defense that has caused many an offensive coach, such as myself, many sleepless nights.

Advantages of the 2-3 (2-1-2) Zone Defense

The zone has several advantages that should be taken into consideration when a coach wishes to utilize the 2-3 zone.  They include, but are not limited to:

  1. The defense allows you to protect your center.  Because the two guards and the two forwards are responsible for covering the perimeter, the center is essentially protected on the inside.  He will be allowed to cover the low post area and can cause problems for penetration into the post area whether it is on the dribble or by the use of the pass.

  2. Versatility the defense.  This defense has the ability to be used as a straight zone, a point zone or as a match-up zone as illustrated in my piece on match-up zone defenses.  With the 2-3 zone defense, there are several applications that can be used to give your team a multiple defense.

  3. 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.

  4. 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 2-3 (2-1-2) Zone Defense

However, there are also some disadvantages that need to be considered before deciding to use the 2-3 zone defense.  They include, but are not limited to:

  1. Inability to cover the point and the wings.  Because of the positioning of the guards, forwards and center in the zone, the areas at the top of the three-point arc and the area just below the free-throw line extended are vulnerable.  We also have some vulnerability in the short corners if we go to a 2-3 look.  However, we can cover the low blocks with a 2-1-2 look in lieu of a 2-3 look.

  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

The first two players placed in the zone are X1 and X2, the guards.  X1 and X2 will cover the area inside the top half of the three-point arc and will guard the basketball when it is at the top of the zone.

The back row of the 2-3 zone are X3, X4 and X5.  X3 and X4 are the forwards while X5 is the center.  X3 and X4 will have the responsibility of covering the corner when the ball is on their side and the area from the basket to the low post on their side when they are help side.  X5 will be required to dead front any ball-side post player when the ball is below the free-throw line extended.  

Diagram 1 shows the defense as diagrammed and Diagram 2 shows the defense when the ball is brought across half court.  We will not go into the defensive adjustments until the ball is entered to or below the wing area.


Diagram 1

Diagram 2

Slides of the 2-3 (2-1-2) Zone

We start the defense with our normal alignment as was illustrated in Diagrams 1 and 2.  If the ball is passed from the point to the wing, we want X1 to cover the receiver if this is the first pass.  We will shift the rest of the players in the zone accordingly (Diagram 3).  If the ball is passed from the point to the wing and this was not the first pass, we will have the forward cover the receiver of the pass until a guard is able to replace him with what we call a bump.

Diagram 4 illustrates what we want when the ball is passed from the wing to the corner.  The real movement is not with X1 and X3 as is shown in the illustration, but with the backside three players.  We will have the backside guard cover the ball side high post, the center fronting in the low post and the backside forward covering the basket area.


Diagram 3

Diagram 4

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