The Mikan Drill

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How to attack a 2-3 zone

with 4 comments

The 2-3 zone is a defense you will see often in college basketball. It can confuse a team in short bursts or show to be effective over the game (see, Syracuse Orange). However, with a few key concepts, a zone is not that difficult to break down. Even without the defensive 3 seconds rule, there are plenty of gaps in the zone that can be exploited.

First, I want to show what a poor offense looks like against the zone. It features lazy passes around the 3 point line, no movement within the zone and no penetration. See the clip:

Sure, Arizona got an open 3 point shot, but it came without even trying to penetrate the zone for a 2 point attempt. Chase Budinger and Nic Wise were content to pass the ball out top and Jordan Hill did not work to get open at the foul line. Stay with me after the break to see a few ways to break the zone.

I have three ways to beat the 2-3 zone and getting high percentage shots; get the ball to the dead spot (baseline), penetrate the middle and beat the zone down the floor. Let’s look at each of these one at a time.

Beat the zone

The zone can be an effective defense not only due to the lack of a defensive 3 seconds but also since college teams do not have much time to prepare for zones. They may only have 2 days of practice between games and while a zone is not impenetrable, it takes repetition and practice to learn the concepts.

The first way to beat a zone is to not face it and beat the zone down the floor before it can get set up. Watch Louisville’s Edgar Sosa push the ball up the floor and penetrate to the lane before the zone gets set up. He is able to dish off for a wide open dunk.

Get the ball to the dead spot

The ‘dead spot’ goes by many names but it is the area on the baseline behind the zone between the outside player and the anchor under the basket. Getting the ball there gives the offense several options, as seen below. They can have a baseline jumper, pass the ball to the middle or kick out for a three when the zone collapses.

The key to beating a zone is to get the zone moving. When the zone is standing still, they are comfortable and difficult to penetrate. Get the zone moving and you have an easier chance to beat the zone. By getting the ball to the baseline, the zone has to rotate and the offense has more openings to beat the zone.

Penetrating the middle

The zone has a weak spot around the foul line in the middle of the zone. If the ball can get to this spot through use of the dribble or the pass, the zone can be broken down. Watch the final clips and watch how the defense is forced to move once the ball is penetrated into the middle.

Again, there are plenty of options once you get the ball to the right spot. Like getting the ball to the dead spot, getting the ball to the middle can open up a 15 foot jumper, a 3 point attempt or a layup if nobody from the back line steps up.

Like I said, this is effective by either the pass or the dribble. Notice that in the final clip, a 3 point shot was attempted. Many people think that 3 point shooting is the key to beating a zone. However, since the average college teams shoots about 34% from 3, it’s not always the best shot to take. However, when it’s taken within one of the above scenarios, it can be a smart shot. If the offense forced the defense to move and work and ended up with a 3, it can be a smart shot. If it was taken after the possession in the first clip (no penetration to the middle/dead spot) it can be a harmful shot.

The 2-3 zone can be beaten in several ways (and not by jacking up 3 point shots). Penetrating the zone to the middle or the dead spot are keys to get the zone on the move and help create gaps in the zone to open up open jumpers or layups. Of course, if you beat the zone down the floor before it can get set up, it’s even easier to beat.

I hope you picked up a few things about how to beat a zone in this post. The 1-3-1 zone has similar concepts but if you are interested, I can do a post on that as well. If you have any questions, feel free to post them and I will be sure to address them.


Written by Joshua Riddell

August 6, 2010 at 3:50 am

4 Responses

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  1. A very complete post on beating a 2-3 zone. Great work.


    Coaching Basketball Team

    August 6, 2010 at 3:53 pm

  2. […] How to attack a 2-3 zone « The Mikan Drill […]

  3. I used same technique against la lakers

    Michael Jordan

    January 23, 2011 at 10:05 am

  4. […] I think the zone will work with the current roster. I showed you earlier how to beat a 2-3 zone (seen here) but this will focus on the defensive side of the […]

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