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.

Our Gift to You: We had this post turned into a PDF for your convenience! (Download Now!)

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

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.

   3-2zone1 (2K)

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...


Most Likes First   Oldest First   Newest First

Ahmed says:
3/11/2008 at 5:24:39 AM

fantastic, tight defence coach!


emma says:
4/15/2008 at 8:21:09 PM

kool and nice! helped me win the West African University Games in Ghana


Frank says:
4/15/2008 at 10:24:45 PM

Will this work if the guards are smaller and slower than the offense's guards?On my team my strength is my front line but my guards aren't as good as the other teams.


Joe Haefner (Co-Founder of Breakthrough Basketball) says:
4/16/2008 at 3:03:11 PM

Hi Frank,

Before you try any zone defense, you want your players to understand the basics of man to man defense. If they do not understand these fundamentals, they will trouble playing any type of defense. Here's a link to more articles and drills about Man to Man Defense: http://www.breakthroughbasketball.com/fundamentals/mandefense.html

This zone defense works well if the opposing team has strong guard players, because it puts an extra person on the perimeter. At the same time, it could help your slower guard players.

You have to be careful because this will put more pressure on your post players and it also makes the post area vulnerable which could result in foul trouble for your best players which is the last thing you want to do. This can also cause you some trouble, if you play against an opposing team with strong post players.


kamel khedhir says:
5/28/2008 at 4:54:14 PM

thanks a lot for yuor help tunisia


josh says:
6/19/2008 at 4:02:08 AM

I agree with Joe Haefner with out 1 on 1 skills that zone defence goes to crap.

PS, Thanks for the site Joe.


d p irani says:
8/2/2008 at 8:11:56 PM

simple and effective


Bastiansyah says:
8/31/2008 at 1:22:58 AM

Thanks for the Strategy

I ll use it in my school, Senior High School 7 in Banjarmasin, Indonesia


joseph k. t. says:
9/4/2008 at 9:08:43 AM

i have been coaching with my own idea but this realy help a lot i have already 4 championship 1 no contest with 15-0 sweep reach quaterfinal we withdrawn dew to players an availability and 1 second place in my coaching carrier

joseph kt. t. of davao city philippines


Bill says:
10/25/2008 at 11:46:09 PM

Would you suggest trapping high if you don''t necesssarily have great height, but blessed with total team speed. I want to add something to my defense other than my diamond and/or full court man press that might catch an opponent offguard.


Joe Haefner says:
10/27/2008 at 7:46:10 AM

Hi Bill,

You could experiment with trapping high out of the zone. You could also play man to man defense, extend the defense to half-court beyound, get in the passing lanes, and front the post. You could also try the Run-and-Jump.


Bill White says:
10/27/2008 at 9:38:00 AM

I have also experimented with a defense called ameoba, which my players set up in a 1-3-1 zone and wherever the ball crosses the half court decides what defense we jump into. It will either be 2-3, man or 1-3-1 trap.
This has help me to confuse the offense by changing the zones at each timeout.


Joe Haefner says:
10/27/2008 at 12:50:53 PM

Yes. That could be very effective.

Even though, I have not ran a match-up zone, I have been told that it can cause some of the same confusion.


RONNIE says:
11/5/2008 at 10:18:25 AM



Mads Vold says:
11/8/2008 at 6:17:53 PM

Some other sites want the no. 1 player to stay at ball level all the way down to the low post. So instead of no. 4 taking the lowpost the no. 1 does. the no 4 player can then stay at opposite side instead of no. 2 dropping down. the no. 2 player protects the high post and skip (like the above mentioned trap in the corner).

What works best?

We are going to the national championship final at end of november and will be meeting a team that has better guards than we have but they are equal or worse on the forwards. What do you recomend? If I should play like the other sites say. Should it be a no. 3 player or no. 1 player on top?



Joe Haefner says:
11/9/2008 at 9:27:28 AM

Hi Mads,

What works best is probably based on your personnel. Is your no. 1 player in the zone tall enough to front the post? Is he quick enough to guard the perimeter? Then, you could drop him down to the post.

You could experiment with both types of defense. If something works, stick with it.


Matt says:
11/9/2008 at 10:51:06 AM

Here is a possibility if anyone wants to try this. Anytime the ball goes to the corner, your 4 and 2 man or your 5 and 3 man trap hard in the corner. Your 1 man will then drop to the block to take away post entry. The backside top player will then go to the elbow on the side the ball is being trapped and you still have backside help in the post. This puts alot of added pressure on the offense to make a skip pass. I have been able to get numerous steals this way, especially when the 1 man drops down to the post. Very effective!!


Andy says:
11/19/2008 at 9:16:46 AM

i hope i will adapt to this defence sistem because i've only played man-to-man and now i'm cofused on the pitch.what can i say coach know's better than me....


Stepan says:
12/9/2008 at 10:37:53 AM

I believe, though 3-2 and 2-3 zones are certainly the most frequently used sets, 2-2-1 and 1-3-1 patterns should also be covered. If you have one tall guy who can clean everything around the basket and four much smaller and quicker players you would probably choose 2-2-1. And 1-3-1 set is also very useful in many cases. I agree that any zone defense is secondary to the man-to-man but isn't this opinion (so widely shared) a reason why American teams struggle so much against European zones in many tournaments? Anyway, playing Z (and against it) is not equal to playing D but it's just as hard as anything else on the defensive end.


amy says:
1/1/2009 at 8:07:49 PM

i do not get the zone defense. but it see a little easier than man to man


amy says:
1/1/2009 at 8:10:29 PM

i also think that crap is a bad word


Byron B says:
1/27/2009 at 10:05:44 PM


The ZONE allows the players to move as a unit wherever the ball moves. It is almost like all five players follow the ball within their zone.
However, when the ball is in the wings it is a good opportunity for a trap.

I have been using a zone defense with small inexperienced 5th and 6th grade girls and we hold the other teams to half of what they are used to doing. It forces bad shots and bad passes.


Joe Haefner says:
1/28/2009 at 7:59:13 AM

Hi Brian,

I'd be hesitant towards using zones with youth and junior high teams. If you teach zones before the team has the principles of man to man down pat, they may form some bad habits that will hurt them in the LONG-TERM. I've seen this many times at the high school level.

You also mention "The ZONE allows the players to move as a unit wherever the ball moves." The same should happen when a man to man defense is taught properly.

If you would like to read more on this topic, visit: http://www.breakthroughbasketball.com/defense/age.html


Byron B says:
1/28/2009 at 9:21:07 AM


I have a lot to learn. This is my first time coaching and I need to learn to implement a man to man defense. I did not realize that the DEFENSE moves as a unit with the ball when playing Man to Man. What is the best link you have to teach this concept to young girls?

Thanks so smuch!



Joe Haefner says:
1/28/2009 at 4:24:49 PM

Hi Byron,

No problem. We all have a lot to learn.

I have some basics on what you should be teaching to each age level at this link: http://www.breakthroughbasketball.com/coaching/teach-youth.html

You can also reference our defense page: http://www.breakthroughbasketball.com/defense/man.html


Stepan says:
2/3/2009 at 6:21:25 AM

Byron B says:
1/28/2009 at 9:21:07 AM
I did not realize that the DEFENSE moves as a unit with the ball when playing Man to Man.

I would say, in most cases it doesn't. :) But it should.


Scotty says:
4/1/2009 at 10:21:30 AM

What are the rotations when the ball is passed into the soft spot/short corner? How would you teach to cover it? Also, I would think the skip pass could really hurt the 3-2, how is it covered? I am asking because I am thinking of using the 3-2 next year with my high school team and need to be in depth with how to cover everything possible.


Scotty says:
4/1/2009 at 10:25:26 AM



K.B. says:
4/29/2009 at 10:39:07 PM

I'm also wondering how to cover the skip pass because now I wouldn't trap now. As for the short corner I'm trapping hard and aggressive, it'll surprise most.


Willy says:
7/2/2009 at 2:44:17 PM

I ran the 1-2-2 or 3-2 last year. I found that it works fine versus a 1 guard front. The problem we had was versus a 2 guard front. Our adjustment was to sink the point defender in the lane and have him stay between the ball and the basket. Our wings and post would be responsible for the slots and the corners. We then ran into the problem of teams putting players in the grey areas and placing their corner players a little higher making the post cover more ground.

After all these problems I came to the conclusion that we needed to match-up. The match-up would solve all these problems. The problem I found with the match-up is it seems to be a little complicated.

My question is related to the match-up. I have seen various resources on the match-up. When I watch teams in college their match-ups look nothing like the resources I have studied. Does anyone have a good match-up or good match-up information that can be taught to high school athletes.


coach J says:
7/17/2009 at 1:46:18 AM

Coach Willy the best way to run matchup out of the 3-2 is to use man to man defense rules and start all players inside the 3 point line. I use the packline man to man rules with all my zones. For example if ball is in the corner the bottom forward would guard ball 1 on 1. You would bring the other forward over to front the post or play behing no 3/4 front. ball side wing could deny return wing pass or clog the lane for penetation(that would put player in help postion). top player would be responsible for high post on ball side. The opposite wing would drop to the midline in an open stance just like he would in help side man to man. This player would be responsible for the first skip pass to the weakside.the top player would be responsible for skip passes to the top. The top player would guard the ball when ball is at the top and if that person drible guard man to man until they can pass the dribbler over to the wing. The key to this mathup zone is to have one man guard the ball and the other 4 players play help defense.


coach tawanda says:
8/28/2009 at 5:05:20 AM

thanks .my players are developing skills each and everyday


Rusty Crostic says:
11/25/2009 at 10:39:43 PM


In your diagrams I see how the Zone works when the ball is on the perimeter. How would you cover the ball when it is thrown into the low post? Sorry, I do not know this. I am learning this new system.



Dave says:
11/28/2009 at 9:11:28 AM

I've been playing 'ball for approx. 20 years (never been anything special but just love the game!) and am currently playing in a team with 4 guys who are about that age, and two in their 40's - 50's... been trying to explain the 3-2 to these guys for the last few seasons and decided I'd try n look some stuff up... found this page and can't agree more with what's on here! This will be getting printed out and given to every member of the team to back up exactly what I've been trying to tell them! Thanks heaps, you know your stuff! Dave. Perth. Australia.


Trey Thurston says:
12/4/2009 at 12:37:54 PM

Doesn't the bottom guy need to move up across the middle of the lane so he can slide over top of the low post? The point guy should drop to the bottom of the circle and the wing should come back to the high post when the ball is in the corner. This is not a trap defense, one on the ball at all times. You want a trap defense play a 1-3-1 or a 2-2-1.


Joe Haefner says:
12/9/2009 at 8:58:07 AM

Rusty, I would say it depends on the post player. If it is somebody who is not a threat, just leave the post player on him and have the othe defenders maintain their position based on where the offensive players are located. If he is a theat, you may want to drop down 1 or 2 players on him to get the ball out of his hands. Now, if they have a great post player and great shooters, you have to pick your poison.


Joe Haefner says:
12/9/2009 at 9:03:11 AM

To be honest, Trey. I don't have a lot of experience playing this type of zone defense. I would say that might depend on the post player. If it's a player that you don't want to touch the ball, you may want to completely front the post player. If it's somebody who is not a threat, maybe you stand behind them. If you get on the top-side, I'd also be worried that the help defense might not be there. However, it probably wouldn't be wise to use a 3-2 zone against a good post player.

As for the trapping, I don't think you limit trapping to a type of defense. I've had success trapping out of a 2-3 zone. If it works, it works. However, when I used a 2-3 zone, it wasn't a constant trap. We'd do it a few times a game out of our normal set.


Eric says:
12/23/2009 at 6:30:39 AM

What do you think about the 3-2 match up? I find it helpful and runs well wth a solid man defense as our main two 1/2 court defenses.
We try to double down using our 2 or 3(Wing) to help the post by having our post defend from behind taking away the drop step and lead the post player to the trap. What do you think Joe?


Joe Haefner says:
1/7/2010 at 11:12:24 AM

Eric, it sounds good to me, but I've played relatively lilttle 3-2 match up zone in my coaching career, so you might be asking the wrong guy. :)


Leo says:
2/16/2010 at 5:37:11 PM

I coach 7th grade boys and we recently loss to a team that runs a 3-2 defense with the 3 defenders on mid-court waiting for my ball handlers. My team panics and tends to make a bad pass.
How do I play against a 3-2 defense? Thanks.


Robert says:
3/28/2010 at 2:59:01 PM

I have used this defense my primary defense for my team for the last 3 years. It confuses most coaches. They either attack it from the high post or the corner. Both are fairly easy to defend against and if they choose to attack from the corner we trap all corner passes. If you com against a good post player and you want to double team you should use the point player to drop down from the high post and the offside wing steps to the high post.


Kevin says:
5/27/2010 at 3:35:27 PM

Conventional wisdom is the zone defense favors a good three point shooting offense. Do you share this opinion with the 3-2 zone defense.


Joe Haefner says:
5/28/2010 at 9:02:06 AM

Not really. A 3-2 zone is typically used against a strong perimeter team to cover the oustide shooters. However, I have seen 2-3 zones that are effective at this as well.


stephon sanders says:
7/5/2010 at 11:18:37 PM

Thank you for really braking this play down for me. I didn't really under stand how to do this play.


Coach Chuck says:
7/28/2010 at 10:59:26 AM

I've got to tell ya, I coach our 14U AAU girls team. Not the fastest girls, but long and willing to work. They have taken to the 1-2-2 so well that they have their own way of playing it. I showed them the basics and they've morphed it into "their own thing". I tell them all the time that our 'calling card' is defense. We've been fortunate enough to make good teams look bad by mixing up defenses and using the 1-2-2 as our backbone. Over the past 3 months, we've been to 6-7 tournaments and have lost 3 or 4 games... giving up an average of 25-30 pts per game. We just won a national exposure tourney giving up 9 pts in the second half of the championship game.

If you can get your players to buy into defensive philosophies, you'll be successful at any level.


Rory says:
11/30/2010 at 1:20:21 PM

I run a 1-2-1-1 full court press that drops into a 3-2 matching zone. Out of bounds defense is man-to-man automatically. It seems to work for me, but I do emphasize the importance of knowing how to play man-to-man D

  1 person liked this.  

Lamont says:
11/30/2010 at 4:13:50 PM

If the ball swings to the wing and defender 3 goes out and defender 1 takes defender 3 place and defender 2 does not shift who will protect the middle.


Suki Minrow says:
12/1/2010 at 8:48:24 PM

i had homeowrk in basket about defense and i didn't know most of where they are suppose to stand on the court. now i know (well, duh)


greek says:
3/23/2011 at 2:51:27 AM

in the 3-2 defense who takes high post in the if the offense start with a post player in the middle the high post


jhansenbballplayer says:
5/11/2011 at 12:43:21 PM

good way to protect the outside of the key, if you are playing a good shooting team.


Geron says:
6/30/2011 at 11:34:11 AM

Thanks a lot pal.I really like this,I think that I am now ready to play the 3-2 zone


ANGEL MCOUGHTRYS #1 FAN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! says:
12/3/2011 at 7:53:49 PM

Thank u soo much forr the tip i have two games tomorrow i''m going to use those tips.:) :) :) :) :) :) :) :) :) :) :) :) :) :)


Christopher says:
4/27/2012 at 8:54:31 AM

One plus one equal to?


clippers ticket says:
6/6/2012 at 3:24:20 AM

I love to play basketball and really want to enhance my skills to be a great player someday. Your post had really helped me a lot. Hope you continue to write one. Thanks :)


Darren Johnson says:
3/12/2013 at 11:15:03 AM

We have very good guards n post players n both sides of the ball. The thing we struggle with is giving up to many threes. Is this a good defense to guard the perimeter?


Ken Sartini says:
3/12/2013 at 12:58:42 PM

I don't know what defense you were playing but one key to covering 3 point shooters is CLOSING out ON the PASS... while the ball is in the air.

Know where the shooters are at all times... take away their best shooters and other strengths... kind of what I like to call - "picking your own poison."

Every team has a weakness, make them play to that.


Levi Wall says:
3/13/2013 at 9:43:18 AM

Well I believe this 3-2 works very well at containing the perimeter players. It can be difficult if the post guys aren't mobile enough to close out if the offense is in some type of overload and they have a shooter in the corner. My suggestions is that on the first past the post player ball side come out to corner player and opposite post players replaces him at the ball side block. That meaning the opposite wing defender will drop! Another defense that can help is running a 3-2 but go man after the first pass. You can change it up at times to the second or third pass depending on how much time you have worked on it and how well your players understand it!


Confused says:
2/1/2014 at 2:00:03 AM

I was playing one on one basketball with my friend. He shot the ball and it hit the rim. I ran after the ball and got it and made a shot afterwards. My friend said that I couldn't count that point because I didn't take the ball out behind the 3-point line. Can you clarify that rule, please.


Ken Sartini says:
2/1/2014 at 12:20:47 PM

Confused -

You brought a smile to my face. That was the rule we used to play by when I was YOUNGER :-)

That rule isn't written anywhere but it usually is how playing 1 on 1 is done.

Don't lose any sleep over this one, next time you know, so go out and beat him.... and have FUN.


Anna says:
2/20/2014 at 9:36:28 PM

My coach showed us this defense and I was surprised at how effective it was. The only problem was that in the third game we used it I fouled out for the first time since I started playing.


Fatso says:
2/24/2014 at 5:49:24 PM

I like this zone works so good. My speedy guards has let up almost no points because o this zone. The team we are playing has to get in the post to score and we have good post players/tall dudes!

Thank you (so much)😛😛😛😛😌😪😅💩💩💩💩💩👽👽👽👽👽👽👽👽💩💩💩💩💩


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...




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.


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.

  3 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:


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.


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


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

that help me understand the zone def and win games


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!


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?


Leave a Comment
Email (not published)
Six plus nineteen is equal to?  (Prevents Spam)
 Load New Question
Leave this Blank
    Check this box to receive an email notification when someone else comments on this page.