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.


Zone Offense in the R&R (Part III)

This entry is part 3 of 3 in the series Zone Offense

As a smart coach pointed out to me last night, one reason teams play zone is because the offense can’t shoot. Well, I don’t know of many offenses that can cure that problem.  So get in the gym and get up reps.  In the meantime, let’s look at some options for zone offense as a part of the R&R.

There are a number of ways to defeat zone defenses.  One way is to force defenders to play out of their zone.  Another strategy is to overload a zone. The traditional overload, puts four players on the ball side of the court and forces 3 players to cover them.  What if we overload the zone in a different way?

What if we make 2 weak side defenders guard 4 offensive players?  What if we make two defenders guard one person which leaves no one to cover a second offensive player in the same zone?  What if we simply put two people in one zone and make one person guard both of them?

Below are three single action options. The first is an attack dribble.  The second is a Pass and “hook and look.”  The last one is third is a Dribble At.

I guess you can use them as quick hitters.  I would say this is a way to get a zone defense chasing right away.  I will include some variations of these zone offense diagrams in a following post.

I look forward to your comments, questions, and suggestions.


An Attack Dribble can make 2 people guard 1 person.
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Who is going to guard 2?  X1 and X2 both helped on the drive from 1.  A simple reverse pivot and a kickout to the safety can cause issues for the defense.  You might not get a wide open 3.  You might not want a wide open 3. Regardless, it creates a situation where X1 and X2 might be in confusion about who guards 2.  Not to mention that there is a numbers advantage on the right side of the floor. On the kickout, does X5 come up to help on 1?  That leaves 5 open.  Can 1 post up one of the top defenders for an easy return pass?


Pass and Hook & Look…Oh but wait, I can just take a couple steps and bury my defender with a screen.  

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I doubt X2 will come all the way over to help.  X1 is stuck with a decision to make. In the meantime, 5 can seal X4 in the lane or out of the lane on the weak side.  If 5 commits to help X1, X3 is stuck guarding 2 one on one.  If X5 is too worried about 5, then 1 is open.


Dribble-At & Pin Screen

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A simple dribble-at can set up a double pin screen on the weak side. Somebody has to close out to 4. Who’s gonna do it, X2 or X4?  That’s gonna leave somebody open.  Maybe 5 on the post up?  Maybe 2 for an open jumper.  Maybe 3 at the elbow.

Zone Offense: Hook and Look (Part II)

This entry is part 2 of 3 in the series Zone Offense

I mentioned in my first post on zone offense that we are typically 4 out 1 in. You might ask, “Are you 4 out 1 in against even front zones?”  My response, “Sure, if we want to be.”  We don’t let the zone dictate our alignment.  We let our lineup and the abilities of our players dictate how we start.

First let’s look at this strictly from the standpoint of the initial set. There are a few reasons teams play zone defenses.  One of the most common reasons is that they don’t think they can defend the offense playing man to man.  While lining up in the gaps is certainly an effective strategy against zone defenses, matching up with them forces them to play man to man.  It’s probably not something they want to do. Running an even alignment against an even front zone or an odd alignment versus an odd front zone puts teams in a situation that they were trying to get out of to start with.  Yes, it may help them define who they have to guard, but it also means that they have to guard those players. Now two people can’t guard one person as easily.

Second, let’s consider what happens after one pass in a 4 out alignment.  After one pass, there will always be 2 people in gaps of the zone and 3 people on the perimeter. Even in a 5 out alignment, the same is true after 2 passes.  So the perimeter players may be in gaps or they might not be.  They may be isolated in 1 on 1 match-ups against zone defenders.  The constant stream of cutters into the lane and out of the lane forces the zone to adjust in ways that it may not want to.  It forces zone defenders to constantly make decisions about their responsibilities.

Since there is no pattern, they can never count on a certain cutter coming to a certain spot at a certain time.  Yet the movements are so simple for offensive players to understand that it’s fairly simple for offenses to operate.

The ability for these cutters to be effective is critical to the success of the offense.  Yes, of course, when they catch the ball, they need to be able to make a good decision.  Whether this is a shot, drive, pass to the other cutter/post or kick out, these players must be able to handle the ball in traffic.  However, they can also be very effective without the ball. They can draw attention from multiple defenders.  They can set screens.  They are rebounders. They must be ready to react to dribble penetration.

These cutters force the zone to contract.  If the zone doesn’t recognize them, they will give up shots in and around the lane.  If the zone pays too much attention to them, the offense will get open jumpers.

Of course, you have to be able to make shots. As a coach, I can help you get the shot.  I can even help you work on your shooting. However, when it comes game time, I can’t make the shots.  Players have to make plays no matter what zone offense you run.

I happen to think this zone offense is pretty easy to teach and tough to guard when you’re already teaching the same concepts against man to man defenses.