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One of the toughest defenses that I have even seen is the match-up zone defense that was run briefly when I was a student at William Jewell College.  I learned about this defense from my mentors at William Jewell, Larry Holley and the late Lee Kariker.  Both of these coaches incorporated the match-up zone with many of their successful William Jewell teams including those that appeared in the NAIA National Tournament.

This article will discuss the match-up zone defense and the ways in which it can be incorporated into your team's defensive arsenal.

Advantages of the Match-Up Zone Defense

The first advantage of the match-up zone defense is that it is a flexible defense.  We can adjust this defense to a number of alignments to where we can either defend against an even-guard front zone offense or against an odd-guard front zone defense.

Second, the match-up zone defense is extremely difficult to attack.  Because the match-up defense is not a straight zone defense, it becomes difficult to prepare for because not many coaches know the movements of the defensive players in the match-up defense.

Third, the match-up zone defense can be used to start the fast break.  Because the defense forces several bad shots and can force turnovers, the defense lends itself well to the fast break.  We want to get steals, block shots and rebound the first missed shot so that we can run the break and the match-up zone has the capabilities to get stops that lead to our transition offense.

Disadvantages of the Match-Up Zone Defense

There are three major disadvantages with running the match-up zone defense.  The first is that the match-up zone does not handle cutters very well.  Because you are playing a hybrid of man-to-man, but playing it within a space.  Cutters cause disruption and confusion.  As I mentioned in my piece on zone offense, player movement against the zone is very important to running a successful zone offense.

Second, the match-up zone has problems with skip passes.  Because the defense is designed to guard one side of the floor, a good skip pass can present problems.  Fortunately, consecutive skip passes are typically rare in zone offense and we can control just about everything one pass away.

Finally, the match-up zone struggles with help-side rebounding.  Because all of our defensive manpower is on one side of the floor once the ball is below the free-throw line extended, the offense has a positioning advantage against the defense.  However, later in the piece I will discuss what we do to get into position to rebound the basketball.

Setting Up the Defense

When we position X1 and X2, we have two possible ways to do it and we will make adjustments according to the type of team that we are playing.  Regardless of how the zone is set up, X3, X4 and X5 will have the same set-up when we begin running the match-up zone defense.

The first is to stack them with X1 at the point and X2 behind him.  This defensive alignment allows us to force a team into an even-guard front offense against the zone.  Once this happens, X1 will take the ball and X2 will go help side.  We call this defense "13-Match" because of the alignment of all of our players (Diagram 1).

The second, and one that we will use against a triple-post team, is to show the defense from a 2-3 look with both guards at the elbows.  We will position X1 on the left elbow because we want him to point the ball and most offenses will go to the defense's left to initiate the offense.  Because of this, X2 will start on the right elbow.  This defense is called "21-Match" because of the alignment of all of our players (Diagram 2).

On our back line, we will position X3 outside the lower left block, X4 on the lower right block and X5 underneath the basket.  The three of them will be working as a unit on the back line and will have rules based on the movement of the players below the free-throw line extended and the ball.

Positioning in the Match-Up Zone

When we set-up the match-up zone defense, we have four positions for our guards and three positions for our backline players.  These positions are based on where the players are on the floor and where the ball is.  Each of these positions must be communicated verbally by our defensive players so that everyone knows where everyone is.

Positioning the Guards

If the ball is above the free-throw line extended, it will be guarded by one of the two guards.  The guard on the ball is in the "Ball" position and will call out "Ball! Ball! Ball!" when he is guarding the basketball.

If the ball is above the free-throw line extended, the guard who is not guarding the ball is in the "Widen" position.  He will set up at the middle of the free throw line and yell out "Widen! Widen! Widen!" when in this position.  This position is also assumed by the help-side guard

If the ball goes below the free-throw line extended, but not in the corner, the ball-side guard will assume the "Half" position.  His call is "Half! Half! Half!" and he will be one step outside of the lane and on the free-throw line extended.

The last guard position is the "Cut-Off" position.  Whenever the ball goes to the corner, the guard has the responsibility to deny the pass by stepping out on the perimeter and getting into a denial position on the player who is on the perimeter and is one pass away.  This guard will yell out "Cut! Cut! Cut" as long as he is denying the wing.

Positioning the Backline Players

When the ball is at or below the free-throw line extended, we have three positions for our backline players.  These positions can change based on what the offense does in regards to ball movement and player movement.

The first position is the "Up" position.  This backline player is guarding the ball on the perimeter and he will yell out "Up! Up! Up!" for as long as he is guarding the ball.

The second position is the "Middle" position.  This player will dead front the low post and ensure that the ball does not go inside to a post player.  When in this position, he will call out "Middle! Middle! Middle!" to alert the rest of the defense that the low post is being fronted.

The third position is what we call "Hoop".  This player sets up underneath the basket and will guard against any kind of a lob pass into the low post.  As long as this player is in this position, his call is "Hoop! Hoop! Hoop!"

The first type of rotation is the long rotation.  In this rotation, we will switch all three positions no matter what.  The players will rotate from "Hoop" to "Middle" to "Up".  We will use the long rotation on players who catch the ball and do not step out from the perimeter.

If the ball is below the free-throw line extended and is passed to a player on the perimeter who had previously been inside the three-point line, we will use the short rotation.  Here, we will merely switch the "Up" and "Middle" positions.  The player guarding the ball in the "Up" position will move to the "Middle" position while the player who was in the "Middle" position will move to the "Up" position.  We will only use the short rotation if the low post player steps out to receive a pass in the corner.

When the ball is above the free-throw line extended, there is nothing being called out because the players are in their natural positions on the back row of the match-up defense.

Match-Up Zone Diagramed

The following diagrams illustrate the match-up zone defense in a number of situations that we will typically face in running the match-up zone defense:

Diagram 1: Normally, we will run a 1-1-3 look to start our match-up zone defense.  This alignment is what we call "13-Match" because it closely resembles a 1-3-1 look even though X3 and X4 are near the low blocks.

Diagram 2: If we can dictate a favorable match-up, we will call "21-Match" and align in a 2-3 zone look before we get into our match-up zone defense.

Diagram 3: The initial alignment here shows X1 on the ball against an odd-guard front offense.  X1 assumes the "Ball" position and X2 assumes the "Widen" position and guards the high post area.

Diagram 4: When the ball is passed to a player from one player above the free-throw line extended to another, the guards switch assignments.  Here, X1 drops to "Widen" while X2 moves to "Ball".

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