Basketball Defense – 1-3-1 Zone Defense
The 1-3-1 zone defense has the advantage of being able to apply pressure on the outside arc and high post, and allows for some trapping. The major weakness is when the offense attacks from the corners and into the low post. Coaches may differ on who covers what, but you have to decide which is best for your team and make sure your players all understand how you want them to shift and defend. Rebounding can also be a problem with only one low defender.
Study the diagrams below to understand the how the zone shifts and players move. Below are two ways of playing the zone. The first is more conservative with less gambling and trapping. The second is a more aggressive, trapping defense which requires quick athletic players.
The top three defenders X1, X2 and X3 (diagram A) should be quick, athletic. X4 also needs to cover a lot of territory. Your actual player numbers (assignments) could be different depending on your personnel. X5 is your strong post defender. The basic rules are:
- X5 plays the offensive post player man-to-man, denying him the ball (fronting most of the time)
- The wing defenders X2 and X3 must drop to the weak-side block when the ball is on the opposite wing.
- X4 stays even or below the block and when the ball moves to a wing, moves out about halfway to the corner.
Conventional, more conservative 1-3-1 zone defense
Diagram A shows the basic setup… X1 on the top, X2 and X3 on the wings (near the arc, free-throw line extended), X5 on the post player, and X4 down low. The arrows show how the defenders generally move in the zone. X2 and X3 are moving vertically up and down as the ball moves, while X1 and X4 move laterally, sideways with ball movement. X5 just follows his man, denying the pass. These are general guidelines, and players must always remember that the ball is the most important thing, and they must talk and communicate. Most offenses will set up with a two guard offense, a 2-1-2 set (diagram B).
Diagram B. As the ball crosses half-court, X1 tries to direct the ball to one side, to the awaiting wing player X2 who then takes the ball. X1 drops toward the high post. X4 moves sideways, outside the paint. The opposite wing X3 drops to the weak-side block to give inside help. X5 is denying.
If the ball is passed to the corner (diagram C), X4 closes-out on the ball and X2 can either drop inside a little, or trap the corner with X4. X5 goes with his man O5 and denies the pass inside. X1 drops to the ball-side elbow, and the zone now looks like diagram D.
In diagram D, the ball is passed back out to the wing. X1 will initally cover the ball until X2 can get there, and then X1 will slide over more toward the top. X4 drops back toward (but not in) the paint. X5 denies the post player.
On ball-reversal (diagram E), X1 follows the ball and contains until X3 can get there. (X1 might anticipate and intercept this pass, and get a lay-up on the other end). X3 sprints out and closes-out on the ball on the wing. The opposite wing X2 drops down to the weak-side block to give inside help. X4 sprints across ball-side, again just a little outside the paint. X5 denies the post. The zone now looks like diagram F.
As the ball is passed to the corner (diagram F), X4 closes-out on the ball. X3 can either trap or drop inside. X1 drops to the ball-side elbow. X5 denies the post player. X2 gives help down low, but has weak-side responsibility. Now the zone looks like diagram H.
Trapping, more aggressive 1-3-1 zone defense
This trapping zone defense is more aggressive and puts pressure on the wings, as we look to trap the wings and the corners…
Basic Rotations in 1-3-1 Defense
The following diagrams will show the basic rotations and give different scenarios you’re team will face while using the 1-3-1 zone defense. I’ll also discuss Beilein’s philosophy in more detail to show how he sometimes uses an aggressive gambling style while at other times his teams will employ a more conservative approach.
This diagram shows a front-court trap by 1 and 3. Player 4 sprints to cover the corner.
In Coach Beilein’s 1-3-1 the rotations of 2 and 5 will depend on weather Michigan is playing their aggressive style or their more conservative 1-3-1.
Remember Beilein’s philosophy is to mix-up the defense which keeps the offense guessing. This diagram shows the passive approach as 2 slides near the foul line and 5 drops down near the low post. From this position yellow 2 can cover both red 2 and red 3 in the corner but he isn’t denying a pass to either player.
If Michigan was using their aggressive style, yellow 2 would move up to deny the pass to red 2 and yellow 5 would put himself in position to cover both 5 on the low block and also 3 in the corner. With their aggressive rotations a pass to the ball side corner is denied and the pass to the opposite guard out-front is also denied. This will lead many teams to attempt a skip pass (cross court pass) to the opposite corner. When a skip pass is made to the opposite corner, yellow 5 can “gamble” on making the steal.
Corner Trap Rotations
The corner is a prime trapping hot-spot for Michigan or any other basketball team using the 1-3-1. This diagram shows a corner trap and the resulting rotations. Notice we’ve denied all the passing lanes and our opposite side wing player (3) has “split the difference” between red 1 and red 4. From here 3 can cover the skip pass to either player.
Another Corner Trap (Covering The Skip Pass)
Another diagram of a corner trap showing how Michigan denies the passing lanes and covers cross court skip passes.
Dealing With Offensive Cutters
Many zone offenses will use cutters going through the lane area so I’ll discuss a few points on guarding the cutters.
In the diagram you’ll see the ball is trapped in the corner and red 1 is cutting through the lane. To guard these types of plays yellow 1 would stay with the cutter until he/she enters yellow 2’s area, at which time yellow 2 would pick up the cutter and yellow 1 would move back out-front to continue guarding his/her area.
The basic principle of dealing with cutters in the 1-3-1 is the player closest to the cutter will stay with him/her until “the cutter” moves into another player’s area, at which time “the defender whose area the cutter moved into would pick him up”.
Aggressive or Conservative Defensive Rotations
Remember the comments by UCLA Coach Ben Howland about how at times Michigan was playing you aggressively and at other times their backing off you making you guess. The diagram on the left shows an example of how Michigan does this and also shows another offensive formation you may encounter while running a 1-3-1.
In this scenario the offense has both a high post and low post player.
You’ll notice I’ve used a red line for the conservative rotations and a blue line for the aggressive rotations. I know this may be confusing but it’s the best way I could think of to make my point.
I’ll start with the conservative rotations first since this is easiest to understand. With the basketball in the corner yellow 5 has already moved down to cover the low post as usual. Yellow 1 can simply move down to cover red 2 in the high post and yellow 2 will move toward lane area as usual to cover cutters and the skip pass to the opposite corner. These are standard rotations which will take away the pass to the post players but will leave an easy pass out of the corner trap back out front to red 1.
Now I’ll discuss the aggressive approach which is depicted by the blue lines. Notice yellow 2 has moved farther across lane area to help deny a pass to red 2 in the high post. This will allow yellow 1 to deny the pass out to red 1 but will make the defense more susceptible to the cross court skip pass because yellow 2 will have more “ground to cover” to reach the corner.
Yellow 1 instead of sliding down to simply cover red 2 as he did in the conservative approach has moved into a position to both deny a pass back out to red 1 and also give help in defending the high post player. In other words he’s now “split the difference” between the two players so he can “gamble” on stealing a pass made to either player. These aggressive rotations puts pressure on the offense and forces more turnovers but can also leave the defense in bad positions when their steal attempts fail.
This is a 1-3-1 zone defense similar to what Michigan used this year to baffle opponents. It plays the passing lanes and forces the offensive players to throw lob passes over the defenders. It forces the offense to play high and wide and confuses them into silly turnovers.
It’s vital that the defenders move as soon as the ball as passed.
This defense does not require a certain type of personnel. However, athletes never hurt.
- Initial Set
- Ball on the Wing:
- 1 – Sets up higher than half court and forces the ball to one side of the court and does not allow the ball handler to dribble to the other side. Primary concern is to make the cross-court pass as difficult as possible.
- 2 – Has one foot in the lane to defend the lob pass over defender 5 and still get out to defend the corners.
- 3 – Faces the ball and is slightly above the 3-point line. 3 is in the passing lane to the corner player. 3 should not allow dribble penetration down the sideline or to the middle of the court.
- 4 – Is on the opposite side of the ball and drops down into the lane area to defend any players in the post.
- 5 – Stops any dribble penetration and fronts the offensive player in the high post.
- Ball in the Corner:
- 1 – Drops down to front the high post.
- 2 – Covers the corner.
- 3 – Faces the ball and tries prevent a pass back to the wing. Make it as difficult as possible.
- 4 – Drops down in the lane for weakside help. Still close enough to guard skip pass to opposite wing.
- 5 – Drops to front the low post.
- Skip Pass To Opposite Wing
- 1 – Rotates out to prevent the cross-court pass.
- 2 – Goes to the opposite side of the lane to prevent any lob passes and to cover the corner if a pass is made
- 3 – Drops down into the lane to prevent any passes into the post.
- 4 – Rotates out to guard the ball and stop dribble penetration.
- 5 – Blasts to front the high post to prevent any passes.
NJB 1-3-1 Defense with Andre Smith
1-3-1 half court zone defense
Michigan’s 1-3-1 zone defense against Memphis
Teaching the 1-3-1 Zone Defense
1-3-1 Zone Defense Clip from Jeff Mittie TCU
Running & Defeating the 1-3-1 Zone Defense
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