(English) One advantage of a match up zone defence is that it may confuse opponents about what defence your team is playing. This can be particularly effective against opponents that have one offence to play against zone defence and a separate offence to play against man to man.

There are various alignments that can be used in zones and most have options for trapping and “denial” pressure if you want to utilize them. In determining which zone defence to use you should consider:

  • Your physical talent: some zones will allow you to keep “bigs” near the basket, others have a lot of interaction between perimeter and post players;
  • Your opponent’s shooting: some zones provide better coverage of perimeter shooters than others (e.g. a 1-3-1 provides better coverage than a 1-1-3);
  • Your preparation time: the more your zone defence has rules that are consistent with your “man to man” defence, the less time it will take to teach it.

All match up zones require good “man to man” defensive skills, particularly:

  • Ability to contain the ball and influence where it is dribbled or passed;
  • Keeping vision of both the ball and players on the “weak side”;
  • “Flying with the ball”: defenders moving to their next position while the ball is in the air, so that they arrive as the ball is caught.


1-2-2 Match Up defence

The 1-2-2 match up defence can be demonstrated, and practiced, against 7 players.


Initial Alignment and Slides

Using seven offensive players (5 perimeter, high and low posts) will show all the coverage that is required.

Defenders start:

  • x1 takes the ball;
  • x2 and x3 occupy the high post area – keeping arms in front of the post player to stop any pass;
  • x4 and x5 are in the low post areas.

On a pass to the wing:

  • the closest guard (x2) takes the ball
  • x1 drops back to guard the high post
  • the closest forward (x4) steps out •the other forward steps across
  • the other guard rotates down into the front line

(English) x4 is in position to guard the perimeter player in the corner if they are passed the ball. They keep their hands active to discourage any pass into the low post area behind them.

(English) If there is a ballside low post, x4 and x5 should both have a hand in front of the post to deny any pass.

(English) When the ball is passed to the corner, the forward (x4) steps out and must deny any drive to the baseline.

x5 moves to 3⁄4 front the low post, from the baseline side. x2 moves close enough to deny any pass to the low post.

x1 remains at the high post area, and x3 is in a help position.

(English) x2 must make sure that they keep vision of both the wing players and the player with the ball. They face the player with the ball to make it clear that they are ready to help, which may make it less likely that the player will drive.

(English) As the ball is passed out of the corner, defenders rotate their position. If the ball was passed to the wing, x2 would take it.

If the ball is passed back to the point, defenders rotate back to the 1-2-2 alignment. x1 may “hold” at the free throw line to deny a pass to 4, staying there until x2 or x3 recover. x4 should have their hands in front of 5 to stop a pass to the low post.


Defending High Post

If the ball is passed to the high post player (4), either x4 or x5 steps up to defend them, the other forward rotates toward the middle of the key. Which defender moves to defend the high post player can be determined by:

  • whoever is closest;
  • where there is also a low post, as the defender on the other side of the key steps to defend the high post;
  • a team rule that one defender will always be the high post defender; or
  • whichever side the high post player prefers to drive, the defender from that side then moves to defend them (and is in a better position to stop any dribble).

The two wing players (x3 and x2) drop below the high post player and, in particular, help deny any pass to a low post player.

x1 also drops to pressure the high post.

(English) Whilst x1 can pressure the high post, it is important that they keep vision of the offensive player at the top of the key.

(English) If the high post passes to the perimeter, x3 or x2 will move to take the ball. Other players rotate into position.

(English) The alignment now is as if the ball was initially passed from 1 to 6.

(English) Importantly, if the ball is passed to the corner, this is taken by a guard (x3). Other players rotate so that they end up with:

  • 3 players on the front line (x3, x5 and x4) – guarding the ball, low post and help position;
  • 1 guard at the high post (x2);
  • 1 guard at the wing, close enough to the low post to help deny any pass.

(English) x4 does not rotate to the low post position, because they could be “sealed” easily by the post player. Post defenders should come from the baseline side to the post position.

(English) As the ball is passed from the corner to the point, x3 returns to a guard position.

(English) It is important that all players move while the ball is in the air.


“Scrambling” Rotations

The rotations on a pass from the corner return defenders to the initial alignment. However, if the ball is quickly passed to the opposite wing, the slides may need to be different:

  • x4 is closest to 2 so initially closes out to guard the ball. However, a “rule” of the defence is that x4 and x5 do not guard on the wing;
  • x2 moves to the wing as quickly as possible, allowing x4 to return to a frontline position;
  • x1 moves to guard the high post, and x3 remains on the front line.

(English) The alignment at the end is consistent with the initial slides shown. This “scramble” is an example of being “efficient” with slides and having the closest defender move to the ball.


Avoiding Screens

A common tactic used against zone defences is to set screens on the “outside”. Accordingly, defenders need to adjust their position to ensure that a post defender cannot set an effective screen.

Here. 4 can screen x1, providing 1 with a lane to penetrate into the keyway. x1 needs to adjust their position so that they can move past the high post player.

(English) When the screen is set, the defender should adjust their position, so that they can move past the screen. They can move below (shown in green) or above (shown red) the screener.

Moving below the screen may be preferred as it gives a better angle to stop penetration by 1. However, if 1 is a very good perimeter shooter, x1 should move 4’s screen. If they move below it, they may be re-screened by 4 and not be able to defend a shot.


Defending Dribble

x1 should attempt to influence the ball to one side of the court or the other. Which side will depend upon the “scout” and whatever tendencies the opponent has. If they usually play from the right hand side, force them left!

As the ball is dribbled to the wing, x1 “hands off” the dribbler to x2, who guards them to the wing. Other players rotate the same as if the ball was passed to the wing.

(English) If the wing player dribbles to the corner, the guard (x2) defends this.

x4 rotates to the low post and x5 rotates to the help position – forming the three defenders on the front line. x3 moves to defend the high post and x1 steps toward the wing.

(English) Again, the resulting alignment is similar to when a ball is passed to the corner.

If the corner player dribbles out to the wing:

  • if a guard is defending (e.g. x2) – they remain on the player to the wing;
  • if a forward is defending – the “hand off” to the nearest guard and then rotate back onto the front line.


Defending Post Cut

If the high post player dives to the basket, the guard must also defend that cut. This can be done by switching with the help side defender (as shown) although this is most effective when the help side defender is a guard.

It can also be done by “handing” off the cutter to one of the front line defenders, which is particularly effective if they post up.



The zone can trap at either the wing or the corner. The wing trap is set:

  • x3 moves to the wing as the ball is passed and x1 follows the pass (this works best when x1 is closer to the wing than the middle of the court);
  • x2 moves to cover deny the high post
  • x5 moves to short corner and x4 rotates to low post.

(English) In this alignment, x2 and x5 are “stealers” or “interceptors” and x4 is the “safety”

(English) To trap in the corner, the guard from the wing follows the pass. This can be done after trapping at the wing or just in the corner.

A forward then defends the low post and guards defend both the high post and the wing.

The difference here from normal coverage is that the “help defender” is not present


“FIRE” – Pressure Defence

The 1-2-2 matchup can also be used as a pressuring defence, where passes to posts and the wing are denied.

Here, x4 and x5 combine to deny the post, keeping their arms active to be in front.

(English) On a pass to the corner:

  • x5 rotates to defend the ball;
  • x3 rotates to deny the high post.
  • x4 remains behind the post player to stop any lob pass;
  • x2 rotates to deny a pass back to the wing;
  • x1 rotates to deny a pass to the high post.


Adjusting to a “2 Guard Front”

Commonly an offensive team that is facing a zone defence that has a guard in the middle of the floor will place two offensive players at the top of the key.

In the 1-2-2 match up, the guard that has the ball (x1) moves with it and the other guard (x3) moves to the middle of the foul line and in front of any high post. x2 rotates to the front line.

x2 makes this rotation as x3 has further to move to reach the position.

(English) Once the ball is reversed, the guard from the high post defends the ball, and the other guard rotates back to the high post.

Similarly, if the ball is passed to the wing, the guard at the high post moves to defend the wing. To help this, the guard may stand to the ball side of the high post player, whilst keeping hands in front of the player to deny a pass.

(English) x1 stands to the ball side of 4 and steps across as the ball is “reversed” to 1.

(English) As the ball is passed to the wing, the forward may hedge toward the wing before recovering back to the front line. This can give the guard time to get to the wing.


Defending Penetration

“Containing” the ball is a critical defensive skill in both man to man and match up zone defence.

If 1 penetrates, the other guards are responsible for stopping passes to perimeter shooters – they do not help to stop the dribble.

(English) A common tactic is for the high post player to screen the ball defender. When this screen is set, x4 and x5 move into a tandem position.

As the dribbler penetrates, x4 moves to stop the penetration. They recover back once x1 re-establishes good position.

(English) If the screener “pops” to the perimeter and receives the ball, the closest guard moves to defend them and other players rotate to the initial alignment.

(English) Often the screener, will quickly pass to the wing – this “second pass” is often the most effective at creating an open shot.

This is a “scramble” situation. The forward may need to guard the wing, and then be “bumped down” by a guard, to return to the normal alignment. This is shown in the movement of x5 and x2.

(English) Good communication is the key to this working. The aim is to make the most “efficient” slides and if all team mates know what the others are doing, the defence can be effective.

Here the team rule can be “it’s only wrong, if you don’t bring your team mates along!”


Defending 2 High Posts

Where an offence has two high post players, both guards at the high post deny an offensive player. Again, they do not have to stand directly in front of the post player, but must deny the pass by at least having an arm across the post player.

If the ball is passed to one of the post players, both guards drop and the forward steps up to guard the post player while the other forward moves to the middle of the key.

(English) The defence has now moved to the same alignment as when a single high post receives the ball. The guards (x3 and x2) will move to defend any wing or corner player that receives a pass from the high post.


When to use the 1-2-2?

The main characteristics of this defence are:

  • x4 and x5 do not have responsibility to guard wing players;
  • x2 and x3 will have responsibility to defend in the “front line”, at times which may involve guarding post players

Accordingly, the defence may suit teams that have “bigs” that are slow guarding perimeter players or have “swing players” that can guard both perimeter and post.

Zone Initial Slides
Zone Defend High Post
Zone Scrambling Rotation
Zone Defend Dribble
Zone Trapping
Zone Adjust to 2 Guard Front
Zone Defend Penetration off Ball Screen
Zone Defend 2 High Posts