2-3 (2-1-2) Zone Basketball Defense


This zone is similar to the 2-3 zone that Jim Boeheim uses at Syracuse. This is can be a very effective zone defense, because it still covers the 3-point arc as well as the inside game.

Youth Coaches: Even though, you CAN win more games, AVOID playing any type of zone defense, because it can teach bad habits and hinder the long-term development of your players. Our advice would be to focus on Man to Man Defense. If you would like to read a detailed explanation of why we advise youth coaches to avoid zone defenses, click here.

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  • This the original set on the 2-3 zone. The top two players will pinch towards the middle to stop dribble penetration.

  • Pass to the Wing:

    Player 4 comes up to stop the outside shot and dribble penetration. Player 1 hustles over to the wing to guard the ball. Player 2 slides in front of the high post. Player 5 slides over a couple steps at first to cover the player on the low block.

    The transition to the next diagram should only take a split second.

    As soon as Player 1 recovers to guard the wing, he or she will push Player 4 down. Player 4 will slide down to cover the player in the short corner. Player 5 can step up towards the middle of the lane to guard the player in the high post if he receives the ball.

    Player 2 has two options:

    - If the player in the high post is hurting you, he'll probably want to sink down and deny the entry into the high post. He'll want to stay on the top half of the player, so he can still rotate to cover the ball at the top of the key.

    - If the opposing team is hurting you from the 3-point arc or the opposing player in the high post is not a threat, you can have Player 2 cheat towards the top of the key. Generally, this will also enable him to create a few more turnovers during the game.

  • Pass to the Corner:

    Player 4 guards the corner. Player 1 takes a couple of steps inside the 3-point line, but he should still be within reach to defend the shot on the wing.

  • Entry into High Post from the Top of the Key:

    Player 5 steps up to guard the ball. Player 4 takes away the player on the block.

    If you have trouble getting your players to pinch towards the player on the block, you can set a rule: Every time the ball is entered in the high post, Players 3 & 4 pinch no matter what. We've had to do this with our high school squads.

    Players 1 & 2 have their hands up to defend the pass back out to the wings, but need to be ready to swipe at the ball if the player in the high post decides to dribble.

  • Entry into the High Post from the Wing:

    Player 5 steps up to guard the ball. Player 4 pinches to deny the pass to the low block. Player 1 steps back into the lane a couple steps.

  • Entry Pass into the Short Corner:

    Player 4 & Player 5 immediately trap the ball. Player 1 denies the pass back out to the wing. Player 3 rotates to deny the ball to the player in the high post. Player 2 plays center field trying to steal a pass thrown to either player.

  • Skip Pass - Top of the Key to the Corner:

    Here's the proper rotation if a skip pass is thrown from the top of the key to the corner:

  • Skip Pass - Wing to Wing:

    Here's the proper rotation if a skip pass is thrown from wing to wing:

    Player 3 takes away the outside shot until Player 2 rotates over to guard the ball. Player 3 waits until Player 2 nudges him back down. Player 1 rotates over to the opposite side.

  • Trap the Top of the Key:

    You can have your top two players trap the ball the second the ball is dribbled past half-court. Players 3 & 4 need to deny the pass to the wing and Player 5 needs to deny the pass to free throw line. If the players can't deny the wings in time, the trap will fail and the offense will get an easy bucket.

    This is generally used only once or twice a game to surprise the offense.

  • Trap the Wing:

    Players 1 & 4 trap the wing on the pass. Player 5 rotates over to deny the pass to the block. Player 3 rotates over to deny the pass in the high post and Player 2 denies the return pass to the top of the key.

  • Trap the Corner:

    Players 1 & 4 trap the corner. Player 2 slides over to take away the return pass to the wing. Player 5 fronts the post to deny the pass. Player 3 plays center field and tries to steal a pass to the wing or the top of the key.

    If a player slides into the high post, Player 3 denies that pass.

Helpful Zone Defense Resources

If you'd like to dig deeper and get more information about developing an effective zone defense, we highly recommend Al Marshall's Zone Defense. In our opinion, he runs one of the best zone defenses in the country and it gives you the most thorough explanation of zone defense we have seen.

Zone Defense Concepts & Tips

What do you think? Let us know by leaving your comments, suggestions, and questions...


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Coach B says:
10/30/2019 at 8:09:46 AM

We see almost 90% zone at our middle school level and mostly the 2-3 zone. I see the majority of middle school teams using the 1 and 2 to guard all three spots on the perimeter and do not have the 3 or 4 come up to guard and bump down, assuming that kids at the middle school level can not shoot outside.

Do you see this at his level and thoughts on teaching it this way?

  1 reply  

Jeff Haefner says:
10/30/2019 at 8:27:34 AM

That type of coverage will give up a lot of 3s. If a team can't shoot outside, then yes it will work. We see it sometimes. But we usually get good looks against teams that do that... either shots from outside or drives for a pull up or draw bottom defenders and hit inside players.

When running zone defense at higher levels, we scout and know shooters and show we must get out on and who we want to shoot outside.

At middle school level, I never run zone (or only run it 20% of time at most) because man to man defense is much better for player development.


Aude says:
10/28/2016 at 5:30:45 AM

Hi all,
some insides from abroad (Europe) if you don't mind.
I learnt zone defence in France in U18 and now I'm coaching U16 boys in Switzerland. Both countries have the same approach and the same message delivered to youth coaches : zone defence is forbidden until U18. Why ?
for exactly the points argued above by Joe.

And I saw it with my very own eyes : last year some 16 years old boys had to play with our second men team (there's no real school basketball in Europe, mostly organizations) which plays in the lowest league where zones are common for the simple reasons that there's 40ish guys playing, that the guys there aren't fit so they just stay in the key. They just gamble on the fact that the opponent won't score a long-range shot.
Now these boys are back to U19 and their coach gets crazy : they can slide more than 2 steps, they can't get free easily, they can't create their own shot, they don't drive, let's not talk about pick&rolls or any type of screening... It's a disaster. They became lazy.

If you want to teach your kids at the young age to defend in zone rather than developping them on the long term, please go ahead. But don't be surprised if there's more and more European (and foreigners in general) in NBA or NCAA.

Thanks for the clear 2-3 zone explanation, very clear !


C says:
10/27/2015 at 7:55:28 AM

There is nothing wrong with playing some Zone. I hear some coaches say we ONLY play and teach man to man. Well, that''s like having a wrench in your tool box and never teaching your kids how to use it because you only use a hammer. It''s another TOOL. It can be used well or it can be used poorly. There is a lot of poor MTM being played as well. My job as a youth coach is to teach concepts, develop players and raise their Basketball IQ. Understanding how a zone works helps them beat a zone and understanding how to play a zone really helps them understand defensive concepts of protecting an area and challenging the ball when it comes into your area. Some MTM players get lazy and do not challenge the ball if it isn''t their man. So, I teach both. I dont'' think one is ''better'' than the other. It is simply another tool in my box.

  1 reply  

Brian says:
11/19/2015 at 2:49:11 PM

Right on, C!

There is nothing wrong with playing zone defense. I hate going against a team that just plays a passive zone where 5 players hang out around the paint....they are doing themselves and everyone else a disservice. But ask John Chaney, Jim Boeheim, John Belein, or Bob Huggins about some zone defense and their eyes will light up. If you have the personnel to play M2M, great. If you don't, one or two bad matchups can make for an extremely long afternoon. If nothing else, zone defense does a much better job of developing an entire team concept because if done properly, opponents cannot easily exploit mismatches like they can in M2M.

  1 reply  

Jeff says:
11/20/2015 at 2:42:37 PM

That is true, the is nothing wrong with zone. However I never would recommend a youth coach run only zone. To me the proper teaching progression is man and then eventually zone. But there are lots of different ways to teaching defensive progressions.

The other big problem is that 99% of the youth coaches (many volunteers) have no clue how to teach zone defense properly. In most cases the players are better off if youth coaches teach man to man.

And this might sound strange, but I think a good zone defense is bad your young teams to face. It doesn't allow them to develop... they just shoot long shots outside and learn to hork the ball from the outside with bad technique.

I could go on and on. Take a look at this article with other reasons, that as a general recommendation to the public, it's better for youth coaches to play man to man.


Pat says:
11/3/2014 at 11:38:17 PM

It is really disturbing to hear all of these youth coaches talk about the 'benefits' of playing a zone defense. I have coached 13-14 year old girls basketball for 12 years. It is sad to see coaches trying to do nothing more than win now by playing zones. The kids are being taught nothing about the fundamentals of playing good defense. One way to beat a zone defense is by good outside shooting, well there isn't much outside shooting at these ages. It is imperative to teach kids to play good m2m defense. And as far as teaching good spacing by playing zone D, I've never heard of teaching spacing on defense. As most have stated here, I have no problem with zone D in high school, but in junior high and earlier, there is no place for it if you are really trying to teach good fundamentals.

  1 person liked this.  

cool chick says:
3/31/2014 at 6:40:15 AM

this is really helpful ;D


Ken Sartini says:
2/26/2014 at 7:57:56 AM

BP -

I think there is a huge difference between a typical high school 2-3 and Boeheim's.... he recruits tall quick players with a huge wing span... kind of like air craft carriers. :-)

One can only wish!!


BP says:
2/26/2014 at 7:50:36 AM

Hi Coach!

I try and keep it very simple for me :) and our players. The call is always on the 2nd pass. I really enjoyed watching Cuse v Duke and the adjustments Coach Boeheim and Hopkins made throughout the game. There is a major difference between the scheming behind the Cuse 2-3 zone and the typical high school zone don't you think?




Ken Sartini says:
2/25/2014 at 7:47:24 PM

BP -

As long as your kids can handle that... and it works... why not?

I coached varsity boys and we would play our match up zone if they entered the ball to our left and m2m if they entered to our right. Worked for us.


BP says:
2/25/2014 at 6:24:15 PM

Hi Jeff!

It all makes sense! When we work on our m2m offense my assistant coach is a "2nd voice" and teaches defense while I'm teaching offense. We will also change from 2-3 zone to m2m within a possession. We change on a certain number of passes.

Thank you,



Jeff Haefner says:
2/24/2014 at 6:56:37 AM

BP - You can extend the zone to half court, trap the first pass, trap corners, and pinch to put pressure on the guards.

Or you can go man to man. I have seen Al Marshall go to man on more than one occasion. They practice full court 1on1 frequently and various man principles so they have the footspeed and fundamentals to play man if needed. In one case they came out and surprised a team that had prepared for their zone all week. They played full court man the whole game and won by 20.

I think every defense (zone, match up, junk, or man) is based on man to man principles.


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