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A Simple Match-Up Zone


Steve MacKinney

This is a man-to-man disguised as a zone, or it is a match-up zone. What you call it doesn't matter as long as it confuses the offense and gets them standing around trying to overload your zone when you are really playing man-to-man.

The advantages of the match-up zone are many. Your big kids stay around the basket and your smalls stay outside. You have block out responsibility defined. Cutters and screens are defended without giving up easy shots. There is always pressure on the ball and help around the basket. You can gamble occasionally because you know there is help behind you.

Here are some points for teaching your team to run a simple match-up zone.

  1. Sell the offense on the idea that you are in a zone - yell "2-3" or "1-3-1" or whatever look you are giving the other team first.
  2. One of your guards should match up to the ball with his hands up and staying off several feet until the dribbler gets within shooting range - usually at the 3 point line. Any player defending the ball uses the same technique - hands up,deny passes to the basket area, stay back to deny dribble penetration and be just tight enough to stop the shot.
  3. All other players start in your 2-3 or 1-3-1 and then each one matches up to the closest offensive player. This may change your zone to a 2-1-2, 3-2, 1-3-1, 1-2-2, or whatever the offense looks like. Keep selling the "zone look" by keeping your hands up and facing the ball, but be in man-to-man position by being between your man and the basket (except defend post players by playing between the man and the ball). Sag as far toward the basket as possible without being so far away that your man could catch a pass and shoot before you get to him.
  4. JUMP TO THE BALL (good rule for man or zone defense). Every time the ball is moved by pass or dribble, all defenders move toward the ball.
  5. Handling screens - It is understood that you are going to switch on every screen or cutter so you don't want to be calling "switch" and give away the fact that you are really playing man-to-man, so just call "screen coming".
  6. Handling cutters - stay with your cutter until he gets close to another offensive player, then switch. Call "cutter coming" so the other defender is ready to take him as he come through.
  7. Handling penetration - since we are all ball oriented and sagging off our man toward the ball and basket, there should not be many penetrations. When this does happen, they should run into other defenders very quickly and have to kick it out. Practice help and recover with a low closeout. If the player receiving the kick out pass is a good shooter and is going up to shoot, run at him and try for the block. If he fakes and drives, there is plenty of help behind you. Better to have him drive into traffic than knock down an open shot.
  8. Handling post entry passes - since we are fronting posts and defending the passer with our hands up and since the other players are sagging into the middle, it should be hard to pass to the post. If they do, swarm him with the closest helper and everyone else drop down a step or two (jump to the ball) ready to help.
  9. Rebounding and transition - since each player has a man, blocking out is the same as in man-to-man except you can release a player to leave when the shot is taken to get some cheap baskets. If the shot comes from the wing, the player who contested the shot is usually the best one to release since most rebounds will go to the opposite side from the shooter. The other team's point guard may not get back since your point guard did not run down the floor. Since your players are usually in the same spots on the floor on defense, they will usually have the same responsibility in your transition offense, which means you will have the right people in the correct spots more often.
  10. To make it even more confusing for the offense, run a straight zone sometimes and straight man sometimes switching defenses on the fly. By using coded calls, it won't be obvious to the other team what defense you are calling. For example, "Red 1-3-1" might equate man-to-man, "Black 2-1-2" could be the match-up zone, "Green 21" could be straight 2-1-2 zone, etc. For teams which use a shot clock and which have different offenses against zone and man-to-man, you make them waste a lot of time by switching defenses as soon as they get reset into their offense.
  11. Shot clock modifications: As the shot clock winds down, the defense should put more pressure on the ball and run at shooters to force them to pass or drive and prevent any shot for a few seconds until theshot clock expires. Many teams will try to run an isolation play when the clock gets under 10 seconds. By scrambling and doubling the ball, you can usually prevent a good shot for at least 3 or 4 seconds or force one of their poorer shooters to take the shot.

About the Author

Steve MacKinney
For the last three years, Steve has coached girls basketball at Springfield Catholic Schools, Springfield MO. He is the author of a stats program available free from a seperate page of this website. Also, he has written articles for Scholastic Coach magazine and several basketball web sites.
Coach MacKinney is the developer of the Shoot-Right basketball training aid and is producing teaching videos for youth coaches and players. He is also the retired founder of MacKinney Systems, a software company which sells IBM mainframe programs.

Click here to download Steve's Bestat and installation instructions.


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