3-2 (1-2-2) Zone Rotations

3-2 (1-2-2) zones are commonly used to defend teams with good outside shooting and/or weaker post players. You can also use it as a trapping defense.

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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Basic Rotations and Positions of the 3-2 (1-2-2) zone

3-2zone1 (2K)
Starting Positions

3-2zone1 (2K)
Ball on wing:
  • Defender 3 comes out to guard the ball.

  • Defender 1 drops down to the high post area.

3-2zone1 (2K)
Ball in corner:
  • Defender 5 goes out to guard the ball.

  • Defender 4 slides over to defend the low post.

  • Defender 2 drops down to either defend the opposite low block or the wing if a skip pass is thrown.

  • Defender 1 defends the high post area.

  • Defender 3 can either sink in to stop penetration or apply pressure by denying the reversal pass.

3-2zone1 (2K)
Trapping wing:
  • Defender 1 and defender 3 form the trap.

  • Defender 2 slides over to slightly above the free throw line. He is anticipating a pass back to the top of the key or a skip pass to the opposite wing.

  • Defender 5 takes a step out to try to anticipate a pass to the corner. He shouldn't sneak out too far if there is a player in the high or low post area.

3-2zone1 (2K)
Trapping the corner:
  • Defender 3 & defender 5 form the trap.

  • Defender 4 slides over to defend low post.

  • Defender 1 anticipates a pass into the high post or wing.

  • Defender 2 plays 'center field.' He covers the top of the key until defender 1 recovers. He covers the skip pass to the opposite wing. He covers anybody cutting to the middle of the lane.

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

Leave your comments, suggestions, and questions below...


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Wesley Rosenbaum says:
5/12/2022 at 3:23:47 PM

If there is a high post presence, then the two wing guards pinch the post. If there is no high post present, the guards can play wider. After the first pass is made to a wing, the top middle guard drops to defend the high post.


Joe says:
2/3/2020 at 3:51:47 PM

What''s the rotation if they send someone to the wing/corner and the short corner? Seems like ball side high post, short corner and wing would really cause this defense problems.


Brian says:
3/23/2018 at 2:48:22 PM

If the ball is center court above the 3 line. Who would cover the high post?


Brian says:
3/23/2018 at 2:48:22 PM

If the ball is center court above the 3 line. Who would cover the high post?


Bill S. says:
12/21/2017 at 9:01:44 PM

3-2 Is effective against good outside shooting. It's crap against teams with more size
in the paint. I coach aau and the 1-3-1 Is a devastating defense for rebounding and wing traps. Playing man in aau
is a recipe for giving up 80 points per game in track meets. I go to a ton of high school games and it's funny to watch
teams refuse to switch out of the 3-2 When they are getting pounded in the paint. That's bad coaching!


Beni says:
11/18/2017 at 3:48:51 PM

that help me understand the zone def and win games


Codybball says:
4/21/2015 at 3:49:09 AM

Perfect this was my homework by my coach I coudnt thank you more !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  1 reply  

Codybball says:
4/21/2015 at 3:49:51 AM


Mike says:
1/22/2015 at 3:41:23 PM

Joe - I played college basketball, we spent at least 20-30 minutes working on man defense principles per practice, that's every day. Defending ball screens and screen the screener type plays is challenging regardless of level. I now coach youth basketball and only have 1 hour a week. I play zone as I simply don't have time to be effective coaching doing anything else. meaning we would just get destroyed if we tried to play man. I think it's noble to be concerned about the long term but losing doesnt go over well and nobody has fun losing. Many of these kids want to win. I think winning mentality and learning what it takes to win is a valuable skill not to be forgotten. We spend time covering things at a high level for shell and man principles, the nature of the youth basketball programs just doesn't allow man to be a focus for me. These kids play on 3-4 teams, maybe the answer is play same amount of bball, but on 1 team. in that case, I'd be able to coach it effectively....My 2 cents.

  4 replies  

Joe Haefner says:
1/23/2015 at 10:09:25 AM

Thanks, Mike. I definitely hear you. I've done the exact same thing before.

However, after I saw their high school careers unfold, I really regretted it. They had trouble competing because their defense was really bad.

I've learned that it takes multiple years of teaching good defensive habits and instilling that defensive mindset to be really effective. I believe it's more than an understanding of how, it's also a mentality that needs to be developed from an early age.

I actually wrote an article on this topic in more details if you want to take a look:

  1 reply  

Mike says:
12/27/2019 at 5:19:57 AM

Hello Joe,
I agree with you about the bad habits but if done right I think a zone can be a great building block to man to man. I play a highly aggresive 1-3-1 traping
zone that we teach proper close outs, playing screens properly (since we see the top guys get screened constantly), help side defense responsibilities, proper angels, and good communication. My guys an girls are constantly moving, anticipating passes playing passing lanes and putting pressure on the ball. I also think it really helps to transition from full court press back into a half court set. I play with teams where we are never fastest or tallest but we try and dictate the pace of the game. I am slowly transitioning this style of play into man schemes. But like I said if you do it right and emphasis good defensive principles it can be a great bridge.


Joe Haefner says:
1/23/2015 at 10:14:08 AM

One thing I know that other coaches in your situation have done is teach packline man to man defense.

This helps less talented players compete. Tony Bennett at Virginia uses this defense, but his players are pretty talented.

Jim Huber who is a really good defensive coach on the summer basketball scene also developed a similar defense. We produced a video about this that you can learn more about at this link:

While I don't promote zone defenses at the youth level, if you're going to continue teach a zone defense, I highly advise you check out Al Marshall's Zone Defense video:

He promotes good defensive habits. He also teaches a lot of man principles in his zone.


Jeff says:
1/23/2015 at 11:17:39 AM

Mike - Maybe if you try simplifying the defense it will help?

I spent about 15 minutes a week on man to man defense with 3rd grade girls. They win the majority of their games and it's primarily because of really good defense and solid ballhandling skills.

As 4th graders, again 15 minutes a week on defense. Teams really struggle scoring against us. Have a decent little team winning numerous tournaments (no cutting of players... my daughter picked her friends for the most part).

For man to man defense, spend some time with mirror drill, 1on1 defense, and basic shell drill. That's about all you need to do. Teach on ball defense. Then teach everyone else to get half way between their player and the ball (always point your pistols at both).

Lastly, tell them to make sure the ball doesn't get close to the basket (out of the lane). That simple concept is the basis of our defense.

Much of the teaching is done in scrimmage and games. Constantly preaching, stay in your stance, see your player and the ball, keep the ball out of the lane.

And I will say we constantly emphasis defense, effort, and helping each other. But it's during games and other drills meant for offensive skills and what not.

That is 99% of what we have done. Simple. The only other things we have done (mostly between games in the hall way... is we should players how to 3/4 front the post and how to switch ball screens).

Keep it simple and you can teach really good man to man defense with minimal practice time.


Dave says:
1/15/2020 at 6:50:19 PM


I also coach a youth team (3rd grade) that only gets 2 - 1 hour practices a week. We play man to man. As of this moment we are 10-1 and have beaten the team twice that beat us. We have had 4 games in which we have scored more than 40 points. We don't have any great athletes on the team, but the kids love the swarming defense that we play. I also coach high school basketball and this is what I would want any youth coach teaching. Teaching kids to guard a space is not helping prepare them for the future.


ps. We went 10-3 last year with a predominately 2nd grade team (playing against 3rd graders) playing man to man as well. We call our defense Pistol defense because we want our players to see the ball and see their man and doing so by pointing at both. I hope this helps.


becca says:
11/3/2014 at 11:47:21 PM

Can someone help me with the rotation if the 1 drops down to the post (like some of you have mentioned) and the 2 has to cover the skip pass up top? Does 1 come back to the wing or to the point & bump the 2 over to the wing? Next time around is it still 1 who drops down? With a lights out shooting point guard it seems like I''''d want to keep my 1 close.


Madrid Basket says:
3/22/2014 at 6:13:06 PM

This defense works well if the forwards are strong.
But, it may not work well if the other teams forwards are stronger...




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