Best Zone Basketball Defense

Daniel Brown
• Friday, 20 November, 2020
• 7 min read

Here are 3 important criteria I came up with off the top of my head that are imperative when designing a youth basketball defense : The perfect youth basketball defense should prepare players for the next level.

basketball defense zone
(Source: www.youtube.com)


The perfect youth basketball defense should allow players to experience all components of defense. It was created by Dick Bennett of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, Wisconsin-Green Bay, University of Wisconsin, and Washington State.

The Pack Line defense is already used by many youth basketball coaches as well as high school teams and some of the best college basketball teams in America. There are certain ‘rules’ when running the Pack Line defense such as not allowing players to drive baseline or three-quarter fronting the post, but these aren’t set in stone and can be done in a man-to-man too.

But the small differences that do exist are important and make defense much simpler to teach than Traditional man-to-man defense is too hard to teach to young players.

The Pack Line teaches the four off-ball defenders where they must be on the floor to help their teammates. It makes defense much easier for youth players to understand.

Quick Note: Just because there’s help doesn’t remove the responsibility of the on-ball defender to guard their player one-on-one. I’ve already written a full coaching guide to the Pack Line defense, so I’m not going to go into detail in this post.

basketball zone defense spacing formation positions defensive ball types formations different player team rookieroad passing defenses timeouts movement
(Source: www.rookieroad.com)

There are two frequent arguments used by coaches who are against the Pack Line defense in youth basketball : The only coaches who will say this are those that aren’t aware of how the Pack Line defense works.

I’m going to share with you the 4 reasons why zone defense is terrible for youth basketball that I wrote about in my ‘ ZoneDefense is Terrible For Youth Basketball blog post, and why the same is not true for the Pack Line defense. • In a zone, defense players guard an area by standing and watching the basketball.

In the Pack Line, defense players have a direct opponent and must be constantly adjusting their off-ball position. • In a zone defense, there are minimal opportunities to defend a ball screen.

In the Pack Line, defense players must fight through screens exactly the same as man-to-man. In the Pack Line, defense players guard everywhere on the floor.

Most zones in youth basketball will pack the paint with defenders and force their opponent to shoot long shots from the outside. A zone doesn’t prepare players for the next level because of all the poor defensive habits they pick up and because they don’t experience enough components of defense.

zone basketball defense conclusion
(Source: www.basketballforcoaches.com)

As we’ve just talked about, in the Pack Line defense players don’t pick up these bad habits, and they do experience all components of defense. Zone defense isn’t fun in basketball because players have minimal chance of scoring because they’re forced to shoot long-distance shots.

They’ll be playing very similar to a man-to-man defense (except easier to learn). The defense will make mistakes and the offensive team will be able to move the basketball around and take advantage of them.

Let’s start off by remembering that the only difference from a traditional man-to-man defense and the Pack Line is the defender one-pass away. Use the Pack Line defense to teach the principles and basics of man-to-man defense and then when your players are capable, start introducing the denial aspect of man-to-man.

We must sacrifice some complexity in the beginning to allow players to develop quicker. The Pack Line defense is the best defense for youth basketball.

It doesn’t matter about the height of your team, how athletic they, or any other excuse that coaches find to run a different defense. Due to simplicity and promoting team basketball, the Pack Line defense is the only defense I’ll be recommending for youth basketball from now on.

defense zone basketball
(Source: www.youtube.com)

This means you can keep your better players on the floor for a longer period of time. Zone makes it easier to protect players in foul trouble.

The zone requires good passing and few players possess the passing skills needed to effectively beat a zone. There are fewer offenses against the zone, therefore it takes less time for you to prepare defensively.

Certain players don't have to work as hard in the zone, making fatigue less of an issue. The offense can take advantages of mismatches by putting their best player in the zone area” of the opponents' weakest defender.

It's more difficult to figure out which person to block out when in a zone defense. You might win more games by playing zone, but from a development standpoint do the right thing and play man to man defense with your youth team.

In our opinion, he runs one of the best zone defenses in the country, and it gives you the most thorough explanation of zone defense we have seen. If you'd like to dig deeper and get more information about developing an effective 1-3-1 zone defense, we highly recommend Will Rey’s 31 Defense. In order for the zone defense to work properly each defensive player must hustle at all times to beat their opponents to the other end of the floor.

basketball motion offense drills youth shooting drill ball
(Source: www.online-basketball-drills.com)

If you have a bigger, slower team the zone defense allows you to put your “Big” around the basket while your “Smalls” stay out on the perimeter. A classic example of when to use a zone defense can probably be best demonstrated when the Dallas Mavericks played the Miami Heat in the NBA Finals.

Unfortunately, in this scenario LeBron James didn’t find his perimeter jump shot and the entire team struggled, which resulted in an NBA Finals loss for the Miami Heat. But if it gives your team the best chance to win at the end of the day in youth sports then that’s what counts for the most part.

The likelihood of zone being played greatly diminishes as the quality of the players increases and vice versa. Many college coaches have some zone plays in the book but will only break them out on special occasions.

Coaches who employ the zone know that it can be a powerful offensive weapon that creates bad shots and allows for long rebounds and great transition basketball. For many years, coaches most associated with the zone defense were John Chaney of Temple and Jim Botham of Syracuse.

Fran Duffy took over the reins at Temple when Chaney left and put that tired zone to bed. Jim Botham’s heir apparent, Mike Hopkins, will likely hold onto that defense for quite a while, considering it’s what he knows and what has worked at Syracuse for almost 40 years.

basketball drills youth rebounding rebound player players skills important
(Source: www.online-basketball-drills.com)

With the criteria being my eye test, here is a list of the college coaches who lead the pack in zone defense and excellence. Allegations of payments to players, loss of scholarships and a murder were the beginning to Drew’s arrival.

Baylor is on somewhat of a rebuild after taking it on the chin against Kansas, and that Kentucky win doesn't have the shine it did at the time. Like Scott Drew, Baleen has brought Michigan back to prominence and out of the despair of Tommy “NIT” Maker.

He has done so with a ferocious 1-3-1 zone that suffocates opposing offenses, although in recent years he has used it less and less frequently. As Baleen’s tenure has proceeded, the talent level at Michigan has increased, giving him the players he has been dreaming of to make that zone create havoc.

With the recent loss to Ohio State being the only blemish on the season, Michigan is once again making noise in the NCAA. In the 2008 NCAA regional final, Self’s Jay hawks faced their former head coach, Roy Williams, and were tied at 47 at the half.

With only a few minutes left on the clock, Self famously switched his defense up to a hybrid triangle-and-two and completely stymied the Tar Heels. Self knows that teams don’t prepare for the zone and uses it as his tempo-changing rabbit punch when the opportunity presents itself.

basketball drills ball handling shooting drill fun dribbling improve practice scores game easy camps awesome
(Source: www.online-basketball-drills.com)

That being said, West Virginia is having a very mediocre year, proving that, while you can teach positioning all you want, if you don’t have talented players, your defense won’t really matter that much. Piano was once known for running teams that threw three-pointers at the basket like they were pitching coins at the carnival and hoping that as many would fall as possible.

He made an exodus for the NBA, but after returning to his former Kentucky team’s cross-state rival, Louisville, Piano has reinvented himself as a defensive master, which includes lots of zone looks and confusion.

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