On Ball Defense Against Dribble Penetration - Donít Force Middle or Baseline? Beard vs. Bennett

There is a common debate among coaches on whether to force baseline or force middle.

However, I believe thatís the wrong approach for you! And there might be a better approach.

Hereís Why Forcing Middle or Forcing Baseline Could Be the Wrong ApproachÖ

Penetration kills defenses whether itís accomplished by the dribble or the pass.

When our teams used to force baseline, our defenders got beat off the dribble too much and became too reliant on the help defense. And it makes sense.

If you position your body to force the offensive player baseline or middle, you are giving them a better angle for a direct line drive. You are giving them a better chance to penetrate and get close to the basket. At times, a really good offensive player can beat help defense to the basket.

So this happens...

1 - Give Up More Shots Close to the Basket

The offense gets more opportunities for shots close to the basket. Shots within 5 or 6 feet are the most efficient shots in basketball.

2 - Give Up More Open Perimeter Shots

Now letís pretend that you have an excellent help defense. If youíre constantly giving up penetration, you allow the second most efficient shot in basketballÖ an open 3-point shot off the pass from dribble penetration.

When dealing with players under the age of 15 or 16, this might be less true.

3 - Force Longer Close Outs and Allow More Dribble Penetration

Also, if you rely on your help defense too much, this creates longer close outs for your defenders on the kick-out pass. And if you rush out to stop the shot, you are giving up the dribble drive or a quick ball reversal that finds an open player.

A good offense will do this two or three times in a row. As a result, your defense will be scrambling and out of position.

So youíre increasing the likelihood of the most efficient shots in basketball occurring more often. You donít want that!

4 - Defense Is Constantly Playing At A Disadvantage

It also creates situations where the offense is constantly with a numbers advantage. They are playing 5v4, 4v3, 3v2, and 2v1. Obviously, this is bad for you and good for the offense.

Why Forcing Middle or Forcing Baseline Works!

Sure. You can still win games and have success by forcing baseline or forcing middle. Many coaches have. If your players are athletic and skilled, you can overwhelm teams. If your opponents donít shoot well from the perimeter, clogging the paint makes sense.

However, when you face really good teams, we believe there is a method that will help you more!

But first, some of you are probably yelling at the screenÖ

What about Tony Bennett and Chris Beard?!? They are two of the best defensive coaches in NCAA menís basketball. Donít they force middle or force baseline?

Not really. There is a difference in the technical aspects and the terminology used that makes a huge difference! It also completely changes the body position and the mentality of the defender.

Chris Beard Versus Tony Bennett

First off, itís a little funny that two of the best defensive coaches in NCAA menís basketball have slightly different approaches, yet both are tremendously successful! However, you will see some similarities.

What about Texas Techís Chris Beard saying not allowing middle penetration? Isnít that forcing baseline?

Even though Coach Beard emphasizes no middle penetration, they do not force baseline. He doesnít even force to the corner. He forces to the sideline. Big difference! He does not want dribble penetration at all.

When the ball is on the wing or towards the corner, he teaches his players to defend with their toes to the sideline. Traditionally, when coaches teach players to force to the baseline, toes are often pointing to the baseline or the corner. The toes to the sideline approach wonít allow as many direct line drives as the other approaches.

And if dribble penetration occurs, Coach Beard teaches his help defense to attack it early and aggressively. Thatís because penetration kills!

What about Tony Bennett not allowing baseline drives? Isnít that forcing middle?

Again. Coach Bennett doesnít tell them to force middle. He tells them to stop dribble penetration and to eliminate baseline drives.

Of course, this approach is connected to Coach Bennettís other defensive principles of 3/4 post front from the high side, trapping posts from the middle, and defending ball screens.

Due to these approaches, more of their help defense comes from the middle of the floor. So eliminating baseline drives makes sense.

Both Bennett and Beard Emphasize Eliminating Dribble Penetration!

Both coaches want to stop dribble penetration! But their other defensive strategies influenced them to emphasize eliminating a certain kind of dribble penetration.

Their approaches and terminology ,while subtle, changes the body position and the mentality of the player.

Rather than being angled, both have their players with their butt to the basket. They might move to the right or the left a few inches to eliminate a baseline drive or middle drive. But the approach is basically the same.

Why Beardís and Bennettís Approach Might Not Work for Youth and High School Coaches!

At the college level, these coaches get to spend more time with these strategies to master them. At the youth and high school level, you might spend too much of your practice time trying to master these techniques. Hence, youíre sacrificing development in other areas like team offense, shooting, ball handling, dribbling, passing, etc.

You definitely have more important things to spend time on at the youth level. I could argue both ways for the high school level. It might be situational.

Coach Beard and Coach Bennett also have world class athletes, so that can change things too.

But personally, we prefer this method for youth and high school coaches...

Our Simple Solution for Youth and High School Coaches

Quite simply, donít worry about forcing right, left, middle, or baseline. Donít worry about eliminating baseline or middle drives. Just focus on stopping dribble penetration!

As Jim Huber teaches in his Man to Man Defense videosÖ

  • Get your butt to the basket. Get between the offensive player and the basket.

  • Eliminate direct line drives and make the ball handler take a wide angle around you.

  • Your mentality is to force the player to the corner or to half court.

Getting your butt to the baseline and just stopping penetration is much easier and takes less time to teach.

This approach has worked well for us and it definitely has worked well for Coach Huber!

Coach Huber led the 2013 Nike EYBL in defensive points per game. This is a league with the best high school players across the country. He used these principles against many future pros and NBA players.

You can learn more about his approaches in his video and ebook set:

Jim Huberís Man to Man Defense

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


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8/23/2019 at 10:33:51 AM

Sorry people my definition of FUNNELING, should be for FANNING! Sorry about that!


8/23/2019 at 10:16:15 AM

Hello fellow readers,
As a fan of great defense, I want to make a few comments regarding that subject:
1./ Defense is almost always at a disadvantage! The offense knows what it wants to do, the defense can only react & at most plan various reactions. Also, the defense is moving backwards much of the time.
2. Jim Huber is a strong advocate of "keeping the offense out of the house". Please note the "house" is the MIDDLE of the halfcourt! I have to conclude that while defending the baseline is important, the middle has to be the priority.
3. I strongly advise defenders to overplay their opponents to the strong hand(generally the right-hand). This one adjustment generally bothers the offensive player greatly.
4./ I am also a fan of "fanning, not funnelling. Ninty-five percent of great defensive team fan, only teams with great shot-blockers, funnell. Funnelling is loosely defined as pushing the offense to the sidelines, not the middle. Jim Huber says it is forcing the offense East to West NOT North to South!
5./ The mam2man with "HELP" has been the greatest improvement to half-court defense in the past 30 years! This defense does, however, require good "close-outs" & good teamwork!
6./ Staying in your defensive stance with active hands has been a hallmark of great defense since they started playing the game!


Reggie Higashi says:
8/23/2019 at 9:10:30 AM

Very good article. Basic fundamental man to man defense. It drives me crazy to see most youth teams play zone defense. Zone defense works because it packs the paint and forces players to shoot threes. Kids can barely get it to the basket. It's hard to break bad habits and stopping on ball penetration is one of them.

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