1-3-1 "Lob Pass" Zone Defense

Categories: Defense  
Ages: High School+  


This is a 1-3-1 zone defense similar to what Michigan used this year to baffle opponents. It plays the passing lanes and forces the offensive players to throw lob passes over the defenders. It forces the offense to play high and wide and confuses them into silly turnovers.

It's vital that the defenders move as soon as the ball as passed.


This defense does not require a certain type of personnel. However, athletes never hurt.


  • Initial Set
  • Ball on the Wing:
  • 1 - Sets up higher than half court and forces the ball to one side of the court and does not allow the ball handler to dribble to the other side. Primary concern is to make the cross-court pass as difficult as possible.
  • 2 - Has one foot in the lane to defend the lob pass over defender 5 and still get out to defend the corners.
  • 3 - Faces the ball and is slightly above the 3-point line. 3 is in the passing lane to the corner player. 3 should not allow dribble penetration down the sideline or to the middle of the court.
  • 4 - Is on the opposite side of the ball and drops down into the lane area to defend any players in the post.
  • 5 - Stops any dribble penetration and fronts the offensive player in the high post.
  • Ball in the Corner:
  • 1 - Drops down to front the high post.
  • 2 - Covers the corner.
  • 3 - Faces the ball and tries prevent a pass back to the wing. Make it as difficult as possible.
  • 4 - Drops down in the lane for weakside help. Still close enough to guard skip pass to opposite wing.
  • 5 - Drops to front the low post.
  • Skip Pass To Opposite Wing
  • 1 - Rotates out to prevent the cross-court pass.
  • 2 - Goes to the opposite side of the lane to prevent any lob passes and to cover the corner if a pass is made
  • 3 - Drops down into the lane to prevent any passes into the post.
  • 4 - Rotates out to guard the ball and stop dribble penetration.
  • 5 - Blasts to front the high post to prevent any passes.

Additional Comments:

If you'd like to dig deeper and get more information about developing an effective 1-3-1 defense, we highly recommend Will Rey's 1-3-1 Zone Defense Videos. 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.

Related Article: Zone Defense Concepts & Tips


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Brian says:
12/4/2015 at 8:02:42 AM

On D, 4 and 2 close in as soon as the pass is in the air to trap the 4 on O. 1 on D slides over to spy and possibly intercept a pass to 2 on O.


Michael says:
12/3/2015 at 12:35:04 AM

That is why it is so important to get the offensive point to one side of the floor.

The scenario you describe can be countered very easily.

For starters, that leaves a point trying to pass or around a big. If both offensive posts are on the low blocks, the 2 can cover them both by playing right in the middle.

She''ll have time to get to a contested pass, especially considering that the offensive point will most likely not be directly in the middle of the high post, bu slightly to whatever side the screen came from/she drove to.

Plus, let''s say the point drives right, the five steps up, the 2 covers the strong side block and the 3 drops just as she would if the ball went to the wing.

The strong side wing, in this case, the 4 can hedge over a bit to help the initial drive, as well.

The screen-er would be rolling to the left side, right into where the 3 had dropped to. A pass to her and 4 drops, 2 slides other side and it''s covered.

A kick out to the the other wing, on the initial drive and 3 closes out, 4 drops and 2 slides, just like normal.

I''ll agree, a quick drive and really quick ball movement would do it there, but that is true of any zone.


Michael says:
12/3/2015 at 12:25:35 AM

I ran this last year with a school team of 8th grade girls. We also played the Packline, but I wanted something I could extend as a press and then fall back into.

It''s also something that you can run with a wide range of ability levels spread through your team. At the middle school level, you''ll get kids who are looking to play in high school and some that just want the middle school experience. I had a handful who hadn''t played in 7th grade.

I experimented a bit and had my 5 play the top spot a few times. She was a volleyball and softball player, so she had the athleticism to do it.

I had my 3 in the low spot. Reaction wise, she was my best and picked a lot of steals.

One of teh girls gave me a thank you card for coaching and wrote that she really liked playing in the zone.

You can extend this and trap out of it, too, which we did some.


Andrew Padilla says:
10/10/2015 at 3:19:15 PM

My 5th grade team had a lot of success running this defense. We focus on M2M but would change to this set when we needed to change the tempo of a game.

The 5 came up with a lot of steals in this set. When that would happen my 3 and 4 would start up the court and after a simple outlet pass we had layups the other way.


4th Grade Coach says:
12/16/2014 at 2:52:08 PM

If I ever use zone at this level (4th grade), this is the one that I love. Our primary focus is man to man but this is the zone defense that is closest to it - if the other team spreads the floor like you would expect. This defense, above any other zone, requires solid man to man fundamentals with an acute awareness of the ball and the placement of offensive players. The weakness is obvious - it's on both blocks. When you face this defense, it's extremely simple to break if you have one good ball handler and one good screen setter. Offensively, set up in a 1-2-2 formation with a point guard, two wings and two low post players. Use a wing to set a screen on top on the 1. Point guard dribble penetrates UP THE MIDDLE INTO THE TOP OF THE KEY. The 5 defender has no choice but to step up. This leaves the 2 trying to play against two low post players. One of them has to be open for an easy bounce pass or short chest pass and close range shot attempt.


Ken Sartini says:
8/7/2014 at 5:39:01 PM

Coach -

I DO understand where you are coming from. Kids want to win and it helps them to feel better about themselves.

The key is to get them to believe in what you are selling. Its not easy to lose all the time. I like your idea of "rewarding them" with some zone time when they play great m2m defense for awhile.

As long as your goal is to prepare them to play at the next level and be fundamentally sound, I would think you are on the right track.

Good luck and hang in there with the younger kids.


Coach G says:
8/7/2014 at 3:24:51 PM


I agree 100% the kids shouldn't be playing any type of Zone for developmental purposes. However, I do believe the winning or at least being competitive helps coaches when it comes to players buying into playing hard on Defense.

I always tell my kids that you cannot play any zone defense effectively without knowing how to play M2M. I love this defense because I can use the 3 man shell drill as a breakdown drill and teach them the basics (Ball-You-Man, Closeout, Deny, Help, etc.)

One year I tried going strictly M2M and while their technique and positioning was flawless, my kids were just not athletic enough to guard the other teams star players. After Half time of most games they kind of checked out Defensively and they looked demoralized. As much as you explain to kids that it will make them better players in the long term, they mostly think short term.

I use the 1-3-1 and 2-3 as a reward for playing great M2M. By great I mean, great technique and positioning regardless of the outcome of each defensive possession. Lets face it, sometimes it doesn't matter how great your technique and positioning is (in youth basketball especially), the talent and size disparity can be enormous in some leagues. If you want them to play hard on D, reward them by giving them a chance to win or be competitive.


Jon says:
12/7/2013 at 2:09:27 PM

We ran this with our middle school boys team against a 6' 6" player and shut him down. This is an amazing defense to run. We are 12 and 1 because of this defense


Ken Sartini says:
1/11/2013 at 2:22:30 PM

Coach -

As I said before ....First of all I have to say that they shouldn't be playing ANY zone at this age. They are not doing those kids any favors. They need to learn how to play m2m defense if they are going to be successful as they get older

At this age your goal should be to teach them how to play the game... a lot of fundamentals, m2m D and having fun. Create a love for the game.


Coach of 9-10 yr olds says:
1/11/2013 at 9:55:15 AM

I ran this defense last night and it was effective. I think especially at this age group when kids struggle to make cross court passes, they don't really understand spacing or cutting on offense, nor do they have dominant bigs who can receive entry passes or refuse to take jumpers. All that being said, against guards, I trapped the first pass on the wing using my middle defender and wing player while keeping my point home to steal a return pass.

It was the only reason I won and only weakness is grabbing defensive rebounds as only 1 of my defenders is close to the basket but zone rebounding is difficult from any zone. The benefits I got from creating turnovers and controlling tempo superseded lack of rebounding as O didn't get many shots!


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