Attacking the Matchup Zone

The Matchup Zone can be very tricky for teams to play against.  Is it man to man or zone? Is it neither or both? The answer to these questions can be yes and no all at the same time. Matchup zones love play against predictable offenses.  They can have very defined coverages and they can make it very tough to score. However, there are a few concepts that give matchup zones a lot of trouble.

  1.  Penetration to the middle of the floor

This can give a lot of defenses trouble, but it makes it especially hard on matchup zones.  It makes the defense collapse and opens up lots of passing angles.  The key though is the recovery. When a matchup zone recovers, are they supposed to recover to an area or to a person?  Well, if your players are moving on this attack, it’s likely that the defense will get confused.  They might recover to the first pass, but they will probably have a hard time recovering to the next one. If another middle penetration follows, then it’s even more likely that the offense will get an open shot.

  1.  Skip passes

Skip passes give matchup zones trouble in the same way that middle penetration does. In a lot of situations, a matchup zone will leave 1 person on the weak side. If the offense has one player on the opposite wing and one person in the weak side post, this puts the weak side defender in a tough situation. Offenses must be willing and able to make good skip passes to make the defense shift quickly.  Just like with middle penetration, back to back skip passes are very difficult for the matchup zone to “matchup” to.

  1. Pin screens

Bullet 2 alludes to this but pin screens force weak side defenders to matchup to one player and then to a second player without them being able to handoff easily.  If the defender wants to cheat the pin screen, the offense can get an easy lob and layup. If they decide to guard the screener initially, then you’ve set things up for an easy skip pass.

  1. Changing alignments

A matchup zone tries to matchup to the offensive alignment. If the offense constantly changes alignments, then the matchup zone can have problems.  If the offense stays in one alignment, the zone can predict where the offenses players are going to be and easily stay in position.  So how can offensive teams change alignments? They can have players constantly cutting to the rim.  They can have players going from post players to perimeter players or visa versa. Any of these strategies will give a matchup zone trouble. It’s not very difficult to generate mismatches in the offensive team’s favor.

  1. Dribble At

Another very simple way to attack matchup zones is through the use of the Dribble-At. When a player “Dribbles-At” another player, two defenders engage the ball for a moment. They can switch or not, but these two defenders must communicate on who should defend the ball. An advantage could be gained immediately, but usually this isn’t difficult for the defense to guard. The real advantage occurs with the other three defenders. The other three defenders’ responsibilities are predicated on who defends the ball. It is very difficult for all 5 players to be on the same page and find their assignments quickly in this situation. If the defense can predict that a Dribble-At is coming, they can plan ahead on how they want to handle it. However, in a R&R style of offense, the random Dribble-At can cause real confusion with defensive assignments leading to open scoring opportunities.

Matchup zones are a like a puzzle.  It can be tough to figure out how to solve it, but once you do, they are very easy to score against.