Defeating 1-3-1 and 1-2-2 zone defenses
If offenses are patient, no defenses are easier to attack than the 1-3-1 and 1-2-2 zones. The old rule for zone offenses is to put your players where there are no defenders, and that rule is as true today as it ever was.
In this offense, the players hardly move while the defenders scramble to handle easy passes. There are only a few simple rules, which coaches should be able to teach to their players in about 10 minutes.
• The baseline player on the ball side goes to the corner, and the baseline player away from the ball goes to the side of the lane.
• The post player, 5, goes to the ball.
• Guards stay split on their side of the court. They may retreat, but they do not drift to the middle of the floor. If they go to the center of the floor, they become easy to cover and the offense gives away its advantage.
DIAGRAM 1: Movements vs. a 1-3-1 zone.
DIAGRAM 2: Movements vs. a 1-2-2 zone.
In both cases, the defense’s backside defender has to cover two offensive players. If the offense is patient, it’s almost inevitable that the ball-side guard finds an open pass to the weak-side post for a layup.
After a couple of rotations, almost all backside defenders relax and fail to cover the diagonal pass. Also, the 1-3-1 baseline defender becomes frustrated and exhausted because they can’t keep up with the ball as it’s passed from corner to corner.
DIAGRAM 3: Ball reversal vs. a 1-3-1 zone.
DIAGRAM 4: Ball reversal vs. a 1-2-2 zone.
In both ball reversals, the defense’s new backside defender must cover two offensive players.
Diagonal passes from either side, shown from the right in DIAGRAM 5, also can badly hurt defenses. Oftentimes, these passes result in shots. And if the defenses guard the first pass, the next one can produce a shot because the defense is unable to recover. Typically, when the diagonal passes are taken away, the ball can easily be swung around the perimeter.
If the defense is spread out/matched up, and the ball handler has nobody to pass to, the defense is open to dribble penetration. The offensive rebounders are your two baseline players and the post. The guards are your safeties.
Here are two plays that take advantage of placement in the 1-3-1 zone:
DIAGRAM 6: Lob vs. a 1-3-1. When the backside defender is back screened, there is nobody left to cover the pass from 1 to 2.
DIAGRAM 7: Layup vs. a 1-3-1. Once the offensive center screens the defensive center, the offense has a 3-on-2 advantage. If the baseline defender fails to get to the corner, 4 has an open shot. If the baseline defender does cover 4, there is nobody left to cover 2 on the basket cut.
I have run this offense with a considerable amount of success against the 1-3-1 and 1-2-2 zones at the high school junior varsity and varsity levels. The Wisconsin Badgers have even used these same concepts at the college level to tear apart the 1-3-1. This offense’s simplicity and effectiveness make it a tremendous weapon.
DuWayne Krause is a former basketball coach with 25 years of experience coaching players from elementary school up to high school varsity.