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Foothill League basketball: Defense mechanisms

Basketball fans hear different terms for defensive strategies — but what do they all mean?

Posted: February 8, 2010 10:07 p.m.
Updated: February 9, 2010 4:55 a.m.

Canyon forward Brian Nnaoji (20) looks to pass out of a double-team by Golden Valley's Corey Chaisson, right, and Taylor Statham during a game on Jan. 29 at Golden Valley High School. The Grizzlies run a full-court pressure defense, while Canyon opts to play man-to-man in the halfcourt game.

People hear terms such as “man-to-man,” “full-court press” and “box-and-1” when it comes to Foothill League basketball.

But what does it all mean?

There are a lot of different defensive strategies, but a majority of what is run stems from a few basic sets that vary depending on a team’s personnel.

The Golden Valley and West Ranch boys basketball teams often use the full-court press, which involves defenders pressuring the other team’s ballhandlers as soon as they bring the ball up the floor.

There are two basic variations — a zone full-court press and a man-to-man version.

There are a couple different ways to run a zone press, but the easiest and most common is called the 2-2-1. It places two defenders near where the ball is inbounded, two players near midcourt and one player, often the center, playing closest to his basket.

Man-to-man is the most basic press defense. It means that each player matches up with a player on the other team, including the person inbounding the ball, and covers them the length of the court. The pressure can also be disguised by a combination of traps by the defenders closest to the ball.

Presses are a lot more effective when a team makes a basket, forcing the other team to inbound the ball and thus providing time to set up the zone.

Both types of presses require heavy conditioning, proper positioning and basketball smarts to be effective. Due to the amount of energy expended by both teams, presses can often wear down any team with a thin bench, which can lead to a lot of fouls or points.

For those reasons, it’s tough for a team to sustain a full-court press for an entire game. The press, as it’s also known, is usually a situational defense for teams in need of a quick score, a shift in momentum or a foul to stop the clock.

Canyon boys head coach Chad Phillips called Golden Valley’s press a “game-changer” because of the pressure it can put on ballhandlers.

But Phillips said he’ll stick to halfcourt sets for the most part.

“Last year I tried the press, and it was the worst year of my life,” Phillips said. “That’s why I give (Golden Valley head coach Chris) Printz so much credit and even (West Ranch head coach Sean) LeGaux. You’ve got to have the energy to coach it and play it.”

There are also a lot of ways to be successful with a halfcourt defense. Canyon, like most teams, runs several different halfcourt defenses that vary depending on the matchup.

The Cowboys run a lot of man-to-man defense in the halfcourt, which a team generally uses if it feels like it is able to matchup athletically with the other team without exposing an immediate weakness.

On the girls’ side, West Ranch is probably the most efficient Foothill League team at man-to-man defense. West Ranch girls head coach Randy Smith runs man-to-man defense and said its success depends on having the right athletes and having those players willing to commit themselves to the defensive end.

“A lot of it has to do with the personnel I have this year, and the type of defense they’re willing to play makes me look pretty good sometimes,” Smith said with a laugh. “My philosophy is that the team has to learn man-to-man defense, but it’s just as much, if not more, a team defense than any zones. I like to put a lot of pressure on the ball, and when you put a lot of pressure on the ball you’re going to get beat sometimes.”

When it comes to zone defenses, the most common variation is the 2-3 zone. It puts two defenders at the top of the key, or the free throw lane, and three defenders behind them spaced out and under the basket. This defense clogs the lane, which can limit an offensive players’ ability to drive into the key and create a shot.

The girls’ teams for Saugus and Hart have strong passing post players that score well near the basket, so teams frequently zone them to try and limit the damage they can cause.

However, a 2-3 zone is a dangerous strategy against the girls’ teams for Canyon and West Ranch, both of whom have shooters to make teams pay from the outside.

If a coach sees an opposing player who can beat the team from a drive or outside, the coach may bring out the box-and-1.

It’s somewhat of a hybrid between zone and man-to-man, because it assigns one person to guard the other team’s biggest offensive threat. The other four players are arranged around the key in a box formation with two at each side of the free throw line and two evenly spaced under the basket. It puts extra pressure on the player being shadowed and almost dares the other team to win with its supporting cast.

If an opponent doesn’t have a strong post presence but does have good 3-point shooting, the defense might try a 3-2 zone.
Just like it sounds, it’s a reversal of the 2-3. In this set, though, teams will often have the top three defenders play out a little farther from the key, since the emphasis is preventing a 3-point shot.


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