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4 Ways to Tweak and Improve a 2-3 Zone Defense

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Wouldn't it be great if all of your original coaching ideas and concepts panned out? Even though we resist at times, we all know the game is constantly changing and with that comes the need for innovation and adaptation on your part. 

For many of us, this is one of the fundamental reasons we love the game and we take it as a personal challenge to find a way to win year in and year out. With that in mind, the topic I want to discuss today is what do you do if your zone defense is not stopping the opposing team's offense? 

The first solution that comes to mind is usually to completely throw it out the window so to speak and start a whole new defensive scheme. But before you do this, try adding one of these four wrinkles to your zone defense. 

1. Pick Up and Pressure Early 

This concept was borrowed from the 1-1-3 zone defense that Lute Olson once ran when he was coaching at the University of Arizona. One of the things that made this zone different and effective was the pickup point of the top guard. 

Try designating one of your top defenders in your 2-3 to inch forward and pick up the ball handler between half court and the volleyball 10 foot line. It is important to keep the second guard back on the three point line because once the ball is passed to start the half court offense; this guard would then take the ball. 

While this is happening, the defender pressuring the ball would then drop back. This simple adjustment will allow the defense to put additional pressure on the ball handler, force additional turnovers, and confuse the offense by giving it an unfamiliar look. 

2. Double the Post 

Doubling the post is a popular concept within man to man defenses but it is nearly nonexistent in most zones. This is because most teams put a priority on fronting the low block and or pushing the offense off the block in order to discourage low post play. 

The next time you face a dominant post player on your schedule have the middle defender in your zone play directly behind him. When the ball is thrown into the post, have the middle defender jump to the offensive player's baseline shoulder (forcing him middle) while having the weak side top guard sprint down and trap the ball in order to provide additional pressure.

When this happens it is vital that the strong side forward AND the remaining top guard deny the passing lanes back out from the post. This is a great strategy for forcing a traveling violation, stealing the pass back out and discouraging future entry passes. 

3. Trap Any Skip Pass 

In order to gain a complete perspective of this next defensive tactic you must first view this from an offensive point of view. All coaches know that when utilizing a 2-3 zone defense there are some things that you will give up and one of these things is the skip pass. From an offensive standpoint skip passing forces the defense to shift quickly. 

When the defense shifts like this one of the problems they face is the possibility of sending two players (top guard and outside forward) out to the ball at the same time. When this happens confusion often ensues as both defenders sometimes drop off thinking the other one will take responsibility for the ball. 

When this happens the result is that the offensive player usually has an open "catch and shoot" opportunity. Instead of letting this happen try trapping the ball after any skip pass with the weakside top guard and the outside forward. This could certainly cause the pass receiver to panic and may result in forcing another turnover. If nothing else you will have prevented the offense form getting off a wide open shot. 

4. Extend the Zone 

One of the more common assumptions in the basketball world is that teams that play zone defenses are doing so because they are trying to hide poor defenders. While I am sure this is true at times, a zone defense can also be a very aggressive and proactive weapon. 

Next time your play a team who lacks either an excellent ball handler or outstanding decision makers, extend your zone and turn it into a quarter court trap. Coach Russ Davis and his teams at Vanguard University use this tactic as well as anyone I've ever seen and it has generated win after win year after year. 

Final Thoughts 

These are certainly not the only tweaks that you can make to fortify your struggling 2-3 zone, just some of the most common. They say that necessity is the mother of invention and so if you are committed to playing a zone don't hesitate to be creative and devise something that will give your team its best opportunity to win. 

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