February 2011 (2)
Breaking Down the Zone:
Playoff Edition

This is my favorite time of the year--the playoffs have begun.  District tournaments are determining which teams have the opportunity to move on and continue to provide a platform for teams to chase their goal of winning a championship. 

In large part, what is, is meant to be.  Coaches are not building completely new offenses or putting in whole defensive systems.  They are going to stay with what got them there. However, adjustments can and should be made.  These adjustments often arrive in the form of a twist in zone formations and attacks.  This 'championship' edition focuses on zone breakdown.  Uncover ways to improve your shooting percentage, attack a stifling zone defense, and follow Coach Bob Knight as he breakdowns simple offensive maneuvers.  Enjoy!


Forrest McKinnis
Coach Mac's Basketball Resources

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The Theory Behind Zone Defense

Zone defenses are used for several different, yet valid, reasons. Small floors are the biggest reason in high school because defenders can cover both the dangerous under-the-basket area and the vulnerable corners with the least amount of spread to the side.


Also, since the purpose of a zone defense is to guard an area, rather than an assigned player, the best rebounders can be kept in better rebounding position. Fast-breaking teams, using a zone, can be certain that their outlet players are always in the proper position to start a fast break.


Defense is easier to play in a zone than in a man-to-man defense. Movement of the ball dictates movement rather than the movement of the individually assigned offensive player. Free-lancing, screens and fakes lose much of their effectiveness because they work best in a one-on-one situation. Over all, the defensive team expends much less energy in a zone defense than in a man-to-man; therefore, zone defenses have great appeal to high school coaches. Their players generally have less pre-season practice, lack individual defensive skills, and do not possess the stamina required to play an entire game of aggressive man-to-man defense than college players.


College teams do not use zones because they are easier to play. They use such defenses to upset their opponent's regular attack. During the course of a game, a college team may change from ma-to-man to zone and back to a man-to-man, varying defenses to break the tempo of the opposition. This forces the opposition out of their more successful patterns, or allows them to better match-up with a stronger rebounding team.

Whenever I view the standard zone defense objectively, I must admit its value is evident in many different situations. Zones have been a part of basketball for an awful long time and will continue as a part of basketball for ages to come.

Vanderbilt Shooting Guide

Breaking down a zone defense can in large part be done with great shooting.  This free 45 page shooting guide from Vanderbilt details perfectly how to build proper shooting form and includes a number of excellent shooting drills.  


Pacific University

Revolutionary Zone Offenses

New Playbook Download  

Breakdown odd and even front zone defenses with multiple looks. Discover the importance of attacking the zone from behind and forcing defenders to move from side-to-side. This playbook balances Pacific's creative zone busters with five basic principles. Coach demonstrates four different offenses for attacking any zone defense you may face.


9 Personal Passing Gaps to Exploit
by Jeff Haefner, Breakthrough Basketball  

Image Taken From

A pass defender has nine passing gaps they must cover to keep a pass from getting beyond them. If they cover these nine gaps well, they steal a pass. If they don't...

The good news for the passer is that, unless the defender plans to use their face to swat a pass down, they only have four limbs with which to cover all nine gaps. In fact, they really only have two limbs that can legally cover all nine gaps.

That's pretty good odds for the passer, but you still have to know how to exploit those holes.

The Chinks in a Defender's Armor

When you're standing face-to-face with a defender, the passing gaps are as follows:

  • There's a gap by each of the two feet
  • In the zone between the defender's knee and elbow on either side
  • Past each hand when the defender is spread-eagle
  • Above each shoulder, past either ear
  • Over the top of the head

If a defender is spread-eagle, their hands are covering the gaps by their hands and the ones by each foot. The other gaps are open to pass through.

Of course, the problem is, sometimes you want to pass through a covered gap. Plus, the defender is in constant motion varying the gaps their covering, in an effort to cover the gaps you want to pass through. Because of this, we need to teach our players to set up the gap they want to throw to.

Basketball Coach's Creed
by George Edwards

Photo by Bruce McCain

I BELIEVE that basketball has an important place in the general educational scheme and pledge myself to cooperate with others in the field of education to so administer it that its value never will be questioned.


I BELIEVE that other coaches of this sport are as earnest in its protection as I am, and I will do all in my power to further their endeavors.


I BELIEVE that my own actions should be so regulated at all times that I will be a credit to the profession.


I BELIEVE that the members of the National Basketball Committee are capably expressing the rules of the game, and I will abide by these rules in both spirit and letter.


I BELIEVE in the exercise of all the patience, tolerance, and diplomacy at my command in my relations with all players, co-workers, game officials and spectators.


I BELIEVE that the proper administration of this sport offers an effective laboratory method to develop in its adherents high ideals of sportsmanship; qualities of cooperation, courage, unselfishness and self-control; desires for clean, healthful living; and respect for wise discipline and authority.


I BELIEVE that these admirable characteristics, properly instilled by me through teaching and demonstration, will have a long carryover and will aid each one connected with the sport to become a better citizen.


I BELIEVE in and will support all reasonable moves to improve athletic conditions, to provide for adequate equipment and to promote the welfare of an increased number of participants.

Bob Knight Ball Screen Breakdown
by ESPN  

Many teams use the drive-and-kick 3-pointer as a key play to get big points. Learn the basics of the play and find out how your team can master it before your next game.

UConn West Point Set
Zone Set Play

1 passes to 2, fakes a basket cut then v-cuts out to the wing when 2 dribble fills the point. At the same time 3 cuts to the ballside corner using a screen from 4 on the bottom of the zone. On the dribble fill, 5 cuts diagonally up to the high post away from the direction of the dribble


On quick ball reversal to 1 then 3, 4 and 5 may be able to seal the side of the zone. 3 looks to shoot or hit 4 or 5. 

In This Issue
Theory Behind Zone Defense
Vanderbilt Shooting Guide Notes
Pacific U Revolutionary Zone Offenses
9 Personal Passing Gaps
Basketball Coach's Creed
Bob Knight's Ball Screen
UConn Zone Set Play
Featured Videos
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Stanford's Patterned Zone Motion Series  

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Bob Hurley's Building Motion

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The Diamond Zone Offense

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"I Need Exposure"

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"My Coach Sucks"

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by Sam Waniewski

Graduate Assistant



Being the graduate assistant at a NAIA school, we have a Junior Varsity team.  This is a team that plays a 12-14 game schedule against other schools' JV teams, most of whom are in our conference.  I am the Head Coach of this team, and it is a great opportunity to work on my coaching skills, as well as my recruiting skills. 

As the Head Coach and assistant spend tons of time recruiting for our varsity squad, I spend my recruiting hours getting guys for our JV team.  It is a bit different than recruiting for varsity.  It starts out by getting the list together of kids who have applied to our school and pointed out that they are interested in basketball and/or those who have sent in a recruiting questionnaire.  For those that have applied, I have there numbers handy and I give them a phone call.  I then ask them to send in video tape of one of their games, so we can determine their skill level and the quality of players they are used to going against.  Next, we will have them set up a visit time during March or April where they can come and play some open gym with our guys.  We also ask them to send their transcripts in so we can have a look at their grades, and see, financially, what we are working with and if we want to offer them something.  For the others that have only sent in a recruiting questionnaire, we encourage them to do the same things, except also to apply to our school, and to start working on getting accepted.  It is more beneficial of these players though because we already have an idea of their stats, and other background information on them.  These are often more promising players, but certainly not always as easy to convince to come to our school as the kids who have already applied, and in many cases, been accepted.   


I take all of these recruiting calls very seriously and focus on becoming a greater recruiter everyday.  A great portion of these kids that I contact may not even be getting recruited by other schools; however that doesn't stop me from showing a complete genuine interest in learning more about them and seeing them play.  I also find it as a great opportunity to enhance my communication skills for when I am at Duke or North Carolina and I am calling the Mcdonald's All American type players.   For when that time comes, I know that I will be very confident and personable with them from all of my experiences at this age, recruiting JV players.  




Jim Larranaga combines an on-court clinic presentation with a locker room marker board session to deliver a thorough look at three zone offenses you can use to defeat any zone defense.

Larranaga demonstrates each zone offense on a marker board as well as on the floor in a 5-on-0 and 5-on-5 setting. In any zone offense, you must emphasize ball movement, man movement, screening, dribble penetration, and offensive rebounding. In this DVD, Larranaga combines all of these techniques into his three offenses.

  • Slice & Dice Zone Offense - Use versus a 2-3, 3-2 or 1-2-2 zone. This offense uses four players on the perimeter and one post to force the defense to move, communicate and change their match ups.
  • Crack & Carve Zone Offense - Use versus a 2-3, 3-2 or 1-2-2 zone. This power game offense utilizes two post players inside and allows them to carve out space, set screens and create good shots for themselves and the perimeter players.
  • Seek & Find Zone Offense - Use versus a 1-3-1 defense. This offense uses a 4-Out formation and diagonal passing, down screens, back screens and penetration to break down the zone and create open shots.