Implementing the 1-3-1 Zone Defense

The 1-3-1 Half Court Zone Defense is a great way to disrupt opposing offenses. It can effectively be utilized as your base defense or for special situations.
Benefits of Implementing the 1-3-1 Zone:

1. Teams have to prepare for you.
The majority of coaches spend most of their time in practice working against or on man-to-man defense. Although the use of zone defense has become more popular in recent years, man-to-man is still the most common defense teams face. Even if you do see a lot of zone teams, they more commonly play variations of the 2-3 or 3-2 zone. The 1-3-1 half court zone is a defensive look that teams do not have to see on a regular basis. Because of their unfamiliarity playing against the 1-3-1, your opponents will have to spend a considerable amount of time preparing to face you, while limited the amount of work they can delegate to other facets of the game.

2. There are a limited number of ways to attack the 1-3-1 zone.
There are two major reasons why there are a limited number of ways to attack the 1-3-1: there are a limited amount of variables when it comes to defensive rotations and since coaches don’t play against it frequently, a lot less time is spent at figuring out how to break it. Since there are a lot less ways to attack the 1-3-1, you don’t have to spend as much time prepping your defense from game to game, allowing you to focus on other parts of your game plan.

3. The 1-3-1 alignment makes it easy for your team to fill your fast break lanes and run in transition.
If you run a numbered fast break (#2 and #3 run wide, #5 rim runs, etc.), the 1-3-1 allows you to get into your primary break lanes a lot quicker since you’re already in set areas within your zone defense.

4. Your rotations and alignment can be modified easily based on the strengths of your individual personnel or the scouting report of your opponent.
There are many different alignments and adjustments that you can make to your 1-3-1 to get the most out of your defense. Different alignments and rotations can be effective to maximize the strengths and hide the weaknesses of your team. Changing the look of your 1-3-1 is even better for taking away the strengths and exploiting the weaknesses of your opponent. Several ideas for adjustments to your 1-3-1 are detailed later in this article.

5. The 1-3-1 zone works especially well against:
• Teams that rely heavily on dribble penetration
• Teams that run a lot of different man-to-man offensive sets
• Teams that don’t have a lot of time to prepare to play you (travel tournaments, second game of a Friday/Saturday double header, etc.)
• Teams that have one or two great individual players (flex or trap adjustments)
• Poor shooting teams, as the 1-3-1 forces opponents to take outside shots, thus lowering shooting percentages.
• Many others

To read the full article, please CLICK HERE.


courtesy of “Words on the Bounce,” a great new Blog by Kyle Gilreath (@kylegilreath)


Ask any basketball coach in the world what they think is one of the most important factors to having a GREAT defensive team, and I would bet they will mention “Communication” somewhere in their explanation. While knowing your rotations, knowing personnel, and playing solid fundamental defense are truly key components; Communication is vital in order to become a great defensive Team.

I have been fortunate to coach at all levels of basketball (except professionally) in my young career, and at every level it seems one of the hardest things to teach is the importance of communication on defense. Now I know this is partly due to the fact that young players don’t think it’s “cool” to communicate on defense. However, I also feel that this is due to the lack of habits being formed at young ages.

Websters Dictionary defines habits: an acquired behavior pattern regularly followed until it has become almost involuntary. If coaches began preaching the importance of communication to grade school players and everyone began to do it, would it then become “cool” by the time they reached middle or high school and then college?

Constant communication is enforced at the highest levels of basketball. One of those enforcers is the new head coach at the University of Wyoming, Larry Shyatt. For those very few of you who do not know Coach Shyatt, he is an absolute Defensive Guru (He is the Tom Thibodeau of college basketball). During his time at the University of Florida, he introduced a three letter acronym that was preached almost on a daily basis: E.L.C. This stood for Early, Loud, & Continuous.

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Teaching Defense Through Defending Flex

The following is from Paul Brettner, Head Girls’ Basketball Coach, Vernon Hills High School (IL):

I learned something about early season defense several years ago from a coaching friend that I deeply respect. During that first two weeks (could be more, but our state high school association allows 2 weeks of practice prior to games being played) I had always just done daily shell drills and breakdown drills while building up our man to man defense. We did our build up of position, help etc, and we still do a fair amount of that, but we have added something to it. On day one of tryouts we have a portion of our time dedicated to learning and defending FLEX. Our team does not run FLEX, but a couple teams on our schedule do. FLEX has a lot of actions that we will have to face during the year with a FLEX cut, a down screen which is a screen the screener, and ball reversal. This patterned offense helps us to get better at some of the man to man principles that we want our players to execute. We practice straight man, switching screens, no help on a player, and some trapping. An added bonus is you can see during tryouts if players can pick up offensive action quickly.

On day two we have a portion of our time dedicated to learning and defending dribble drive. We have some dribble drive teams on our schedule and penetration is part of most team’s offensive behavior. On day three we move on to the Swing offense, on day four we move on to Wheel and on day five we move to a pick down pick across motion. On days six – twelve we recycle through these again. Most of the teams on our schedule have at least some facets of these offenses so we are preparing to go against many teams in our first two weeks. Then when we are preparing for a FLEX team we don’t have to try to learn it the day before the game, we already know it and sometimes as good or better as the team we are defending. Now in our time we do not become a fantastic FLEX or Dribble Drive team with all the nuances of those offenses, but we have a decent understanding of what teams are trying to do to score and we have reviewed many of the actions that we will face during the season. Whatever offenses you know you will encounter you can add it to the list.

This does not take the place of shell or any defensive fundamental breakdown drills, but it allows us to enhance those while being in a position to be competitive and keep score. When we keep score with one of these offenses we discover more nuances that we will have to defend because kids are not just trying to run the offense, they are trying to score. We have also found out some things about our team offensively and borrowed some actions from some of these offenses in our own stuff.
Practice time in those first couple of weeks is at a premium but we feel this benefits us all season long.

Aggressive Zone Trapping Philosophy

The following is from Jason Burkiewicz, Head Girls’ Basketball Coach, Annawan High School (IL):

Full court:

  • 2-2-1
  • 1-2-1-1
  • 1-2-2

Half court:

  • 1-3-1

Rules and thought process to trap our trap defense:

  • Constantly have two people on the ball pressuring
  • The ball is never allowed to go middle
  • Remaining three players off the ball are playing gaps and reading the next pass
  • Our goal is to get our opponents to focus on simply getting rid of the ball and hoping for a shot rather than running a comfortable offense that they practice over and over.

Player thought process:

  • We do not play “safe.” We rotate and go for steals in the passing lane all game long
  • We will trade a lay-up for 3-5 steals any day so our players are quickly taught to not get discouraged when we allow an easy lay-up
  • I choose zone traps because most coaches choose the same or similar ways to attack them.  By midseason our girls have a great recognition of what opponents will try to do and it can often times be like playing the same game over and over again.
  • The two trappers are relentless
  • Our two trappers on ball are taught to force the ball handler toward each other leaving 2-3 ft. gap between them while the player is dribbling
  • If we leave that gap the ball handler is tempted to split, where our ball side defender will sweep the ball as it cannot be protected dribbling between two people.  It will be exposed to one. (We have become very good at this over the years)
  • We want them to pick up the ball as much as possible to promote as many passes as we can in order to try and take one out of the air for a lay-up
  • I put my quickest defender on the left side of the court always to protect against the guards who always want to dribble right.  Their rule is to keep their right shoulder outside of the ball being dribble in the right hand of the ball handler.  In addition they should never fall for jukes, stop and go’s, etc.  I know that ball handler wants to stay right.
  • When they overplay the right hand and get the ball handler to pick it up, that’s when we immediately go on the attack.  Their partner who was 2-3 ft away closes quickly
  • Our goal from here is to get that person to throw it quickly to the first person they see or turn their back on us.
  • Lastly, if they keep the ball and turn their back on us we show our players and drill that the offensive player only can pivot, whereas us on defense can continue to move our feet.  Therefore we will continue to slide our feet and keep our bodies in between our opponent and forward progress.  They will not be able to pivot out or complete the only pass we leave open.  The long ball!
  • Many coaches want to throw the ball long on us as we do often times leave a girl open.  However we only rotate and leave her open after we feel we have the trap that takes it away.
  • If these things take place we feel we will have a lot of success
  • The ball handler never splits our traps.  In fact we bait you to go there and we’re ready when they do.
  • Opponents that have failed with the pass begin to try and dribble through our pressure defense
  • When this happens we teach the ball side defender only to sweep at the ball
  • If they get a piece of it their job is to head to our basket and the next level’s job is to pick it up and throw it ahead for a lay-up

Trapping Drill

  • Put a ball handler on the end line starting at mid-lane with a goal of trying to dribble to halfcourt
  • Have your two trappers start at the elbows
  • Teach them to come down the lane line to start.  It is important to teach angles to your players in order to get you opponent to pick up the ball.  If your player runs straight at them they are going to allow their opponent to blow around them.
  • I teach when the ball handler is aggressively coming forward we need to move backward with them while staying in front to slow them down.  We call it, “catching” them first.
  • After the ball side defender gets the ball handler to slow down, stop, or even retreat.  That is our cue to begin the attack.

Concepts for an Effective Defense

A good defensive team may take some chances in the full or half court areas. They may mix their defenses in various ways. But a great defensive team is always solid in the scoring area. If we make this commitment, we can be good as any team defensively.

To excel in team defense, you must be willing to do certain things:

• Put playing defense high on your list of priorities – have pride in playing it as an individual and team.

• Talk on defense.

• Be willing to give yourself up to help on defense. We are always defending against penetration; each man defends his man, the ball, and the foul lane.

• Be willing to identify with the rebound and loose ball.

• Have the courage to be physical – to put your body on people, to make the first hit on block outs, and to defend cutters.

Once we are committed as a team to playing the most consistent defensive game possible, our basic plan in setting our half-court defense then follows:

• Be a great transition team. Stop the fast break, easy sideline break, or easy early offense shot. Make the opponent have to play us 5 on 5, not 2 on 1.

• Push the ball to a sideline so we can establish a strong side defense. Then, we can set our weak side help defense and make the try to beat us on the entry side of the court.

• Stop easy penetrations and swings to the weak side by having our team defense set quickly.

• Stop the low post attack. Prevent easy passes in and also prevent scores, if the ball does get inside (i.e. weak side help, trap, etc.).

• Rotate to cover up any opponent who was left open because one of our defensive teammates left to attack a penetrating drive or low post pass.

In the end, each player must commit himself to his teammates. He must be willing to say he will give his best to help his teammates get the defensive job done. It is not enough to say, “I’ll get mine, you get yours.” You must be willing to say, “I’ll get mine and yours too, when you need me.”

By being willing to give help to attack every penetration into our defense and to rotate to every open man we will be able to challenge every shot in good shooting range.

When the day arrives that each teammate feels we are going to war together and that each man has his teammates to back him up, we will have a team we can be proud of, and one that will win consistently.

Coach Quotes on the Importance of Defense

“You win in this league on defense.” – George Allen on the NFL

“Winning is more related to good defense than good offense.” – Dr. Jack Ramsey on the NBA

“My philosophy of defense is to keep the pressure on an opponent until you get to his emotions.” – John Wooden, UCLA

“It’s fun to play defense. It’s fun to watch the opponent sweat on offense, start complaining to the officials, and eventually be taken out of the game because he’s making so many offensive mistakes.” – Maury John, former college coach

“Defense is the great equalizer. It’s the chief characteristic of the champion and the trademark of the underdog.” – Dr. Jack Ramsey

Lawrence Frank Defensive Philosophy Notes

The following is from Tom Kleinschmidt, Head Boys’ Basketball Coach, DePaul Prep (Chicago):

• Goal is to force one contested two point shot

• Shots that hurt a defense: layup, free throw, corner threes

• Protect the rim first

• We must:
– Sprint back
– Shrink the floor – inside out
– Closeout hard ton contest
– Aggressive defense with no fouls
– Box out and gang rebound

• System – do what you do
– Rely on your principles 90-95% of the time
– Only 5-10% change based on the scouting report

Foot Step Drill

The following is from Tom Kleinschmidt, Head Boys’ Basketball Coach, DePaul Prep (Chicago):

Foot Step Drill TK 001

• A coach stands at the top of the key
• Two posts (P) have pads
• #1 is on offense
• x1 is on defense
• #1 passes to the coach
• x1 tries to force #1 out one side and get through P’s screens
• Coach passes #1 and x1 "squares him up"

Foot Step Drill TK 002

• On the pass back to the coach, #1 cuts off a back screen and x1 guards his cut
• #1 will go to the front of the rim and repeat the action on the opposite side
•  Emphasize hard cutting and physical screens on offense
• "Body up" to cutters and "foot step" screens

Annawan Defensive Philosophy

The following is from Jason Burkiewicz, Head Girls’ Basketball Coach, Annawan High School (IL):

Career – 112-15

  • All 15 losses are to top 10 ranked opponents in 1A, 2A, or 3A
  • 11 of the 15 losses are by 5 points or less

Defensive Philosophy

When I was a player in high school I did not take as much pride as I should of in my defense.  I was a three point specialist from the point guard position who focused primarily on offense while occasionally getting a hand in the passing lane or getting a steal out front.  However, after becoming a coach defense has quickly become my primary focus and it has become the identity of my coaching style.

My outlook on defense all started to change when I took my first job coaching freshman girls’ basketball at Princeton High School.  I had coached boys’ basketball before but had no experience when dealing with girls sports.  This was a school in which volleyball was the known sport for girls and basketball was just an afterthought.  I could see that our girls were athletic.  They could run, jump, accelerate, change direction quickly, and even shoot a little bit, but for the most part when you put a ball in their hands all of that ability seemed to disappear.  After teaching the basics I knew about basketball we started off the season 0-12 before going into Christmas break.  After seeing my first dose of girls’ basketball for a month and a half I noticed that even the good teams lost quite a bit of athleticism when they had to handle the ball at the same time.  Their eyes were down and their passes were not sharp when faced with pressure.  So over Christmas break I threw out everything else we were focusing on and I taught my girls a 1-2-1-1 full court press and a 2-2-1 full court press.  I figured we were going to use our athleticism when not in possession of the ball and our defense was going to create our primary source of offense.  Our first game after Christmas we played a 12-0 team in our conference and beat them having scored forty-five points.  Our full court pressure made the game very difficult on our opponent and after we would cover a passing lane and get a steal we would pass the ball ahead immediately to someone going to the basket for a lay-up.  This game shaped me and my ideals of girls’ basketball.  Today I am a four year varsity girls’ coach at Annawan High School with a record of 112-15 and I attribute a great part of it to our defensive philosophy.

After becoming a girls’ coach I soon realized that when you have a fast male basketball player and put a basketball in his hand, he is still pretty fast, but when you have a girl who is fast and put a basketball in her hand, on average she is quite a bit slower.  Therefore I determined that the best place my girls could showcase their athleticism and be aggressive was on defense.  I grew up playing in a man to man system.  I still teach man to man and we will play it because I strongly believe you need to know good man to man principles in order to play a zone effectively.  With that being said I have become a strong believer in aggressive, trapping zone defenses.  No matter who we play I always start off in either our 2-2-1 or 1-2-1-1 full court pressure.  These two presses are very similar in trapping style and rotations but I teach two because it can be confusing to opposing players just by making a subtle change in alignment.  We will also run a 1-2-2 three quarter court press.  By throwing different looks at the defense it causes our opposing coach to often times have to use timeouts to show a different way to attack our press.  Then I just simply change back to a different one.  It is my philosophy that I do not have to coach against our opponents coach but rather I have to outsmart our opponents’ players.  By allowing our team the option of changing looks it forces the opposing players to make adjustments because their coach cannot call a timeout every time we switch things up.  Also when pressing the girls can really free themselves up to use their speed and athleticism without having to control the basketball.  My girls in the past have told me how much they really enjoy playing this up-tempo style of basketball.  I find that it keeps them engaged in the game and even takes away from any sort of nervousness that may occur in a big game because of the constant movement that forces them to react more than think.  In fact, there have been games where we have had to pull the press off because our opponent was beating it consistently but toward the end of close games when nerves start to kick in we have gone back to it.  After making this move we almost always find that in this high pressured situation our opponent cannot handle the same press they did earlier in the game.

If we are not using our full court pressure that drops back into a man defense then we will be using our 1-3-1 half court trap.  This has been my go to defense the past couple of season for a couple reasons.  We have been able to form great traps because I have had multiple lanky girls with long arms that cause opponents to throw rainbow passes over the top.  After we steal these rainbow passes it allows us time to set up for a lay-up whereas our full court pressure sometimes still causes us to make contested lay-ups after steals.  The main reason I like this defense so much is because it forces our opponents to not be able to run whatever offense they practice all season long.  Against our 1-3-1 we know our opponent is going to show us a 2-1-2 look.  Because everybody tries to attack the 1-3-1 the same way it allows our players to recognize what teams are looking for and gives us a huge advantage when anticipating passes.

The last thing I want to mention in our defensive philosophy that is preached and taught every day in practice is, “No Middle.”  No matter what we are running defensively rather it is our man to man or any of our zone defenses we never want our opponent to be able to catch a pass or dribble penetrate to the middle of the floor.  I feel that too much damage can be done to a defense when the ball is in the middle of the floor particularly at the free throw line.  When a good guard can get to this position on the floor too many options become available.  They can shoot a nice short jump shot or help can come from either side of the floor allowing the guard to dump the ball off either direction for a lay-up.  Instead we want to ball to go baseline, behind the basket, where we can again set a trap.  Shooting from behind the basket is not a high percentage shot in my opinion so we want to overplay the hand that the offensive player would have to use to get to the middle of floor, making them go toward the baseline if they put the ball on the floor.  When I first teach this concept many fans, coaches, and players will remind me of the old basketball saying, “Never give up baseline.”  I respond with, “We don’t give up baseline, we force baseline!”  When it is part of your defensive concept it is easy to force a player down there and get a trap.  After our rotations there is only one place to pass the ball and it is away from the basket to a wing on ball side.  This has been very effective for us and this concept too takes our opponent away from what they want to accomplish offensively because through high pressure, we determine where the ball is going to go, not the offense.