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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Mark Gannon says:
4/9/2009 at 6:09:53 PM

I have seen this defense used at the girls high school level. One thing the coach would teach is to get low if you're in the passing lanes(make yourself small). Offenses throwing lob passes would start to get lazy and their passes would get lower and by jumping these passes would become steals. Love this defense.


Jeffery Ashford says:
4/10/2009 at 3:08:36 PM

one of the best defenses there is when ran correctly!!!


kitsi says:
4/11/2009 at 7:41:31 AM

i wud like to try this defense... wud this still work if our opponent has a very dominant low post player, taller than 3-5 inches?

and what if the weakside 4 will cut to wkside lowpost and a bullet pass from 1 in the wing, how does defense react?



Joe Haefner says:
4/11/2009 at 8:51:24 AM


If you play against a very dominant low post player that is 3 to 5 inches taller, I don't know if it matters what defense you run. The player is still probably going to do some damage.

First of all, that is extremely difficult pass, especially with defenders in the offensive player's face. If 1 makes that a bullet pass, it'll probably go straight into the hands of a defender or straight out of bounds. If it's a lob, Player 2 should be able to anticipate or the pass.


uri shchory says:
4/22/2009 at 3:44:41 AM

isn't this defence the same as the dean smith tar heels point zone?
i read that book and if their some adjusments to that defence i'd love to know...


Patrick says:
5/22/2009 at 6:52:01 PM

In the scenario when the Ball is in the corner: I dont think its a good idea that 1 drops down to front the high post. Thats always a miss-match. And once the Ball is in the zone your defense is in trouble. And how can D5 see that O4 comes across the zone to the low-post? 5covers5 and 4 covers4 because 4 droped down anyway.
In my opinion this is a better idea.

  1 reply  

nolan says:
12/17/2017 at 4:25:54 PM

Having run this defence for several years at high school, university and international level the concern of fronting the high post with the 1 is not an issue rather a must. First the 1 should be a tall, ranging guard/wing and therefore it is hard to throw over top to the high post. Second, 4 would have little chance to get around and front the low post (must front the low post) on a guard to corner pass - it is an easy slide to front the low post for the 5. Third, If 4 gets in front of the low post (which, again, they must do) they cannot recover to their position on the corner to weak-side wing position.


kitsi says:
8/16/2009 at 7:22:11 AM

hi joe,

tnx... il try that defense..our season has already started and we won by 4pts on our first game... they were the toughest team in our bracket..i used man to man def 70% of the time.



herm harris says:
9/30/2009 at 5:35:54 PM

Do u have dvd on 1-3-1 lob pass zone defense


LboE says:
10/8/2009 at 11:49:15 AM

Patrick, if 4 comes across to front the 4 coming from the weakside, who do u have left to steal the lob pass?

By having 1 take away the high post, it still needs to be a lob to get the ball to the high post. A post isn't going to be that skilled to attack now after catching a lob pass at the high post...it's just something they don't practice. Then one can quickly get back out to the point if the ball is passed back up top.


Miller says:
10/10/2009 at 9:55:49 AM

Looks nice but when the ball goes into the corner defender 5 must go down to low post O4.
A good offense 5 player will seal of his opponent and defender 5 can't go down in time and O4 is open for a easy basket.

Also what if the lob pass is cross from O1 to O4


Miller says:
10/13/2009 at 9:38:21 AM

Has Joe Haefner a solution of my comment??


Joe Haefner says:
10/13/2009 at 9:48:09 AM


I would hope that defender 2 is applying enough ball pressure to make the entry pass into the post a difficult pass. I would also hope that defender 4 can rotate over to intercept the pass if a lob pass is thrown.

If you're having problems with defender 5 getting sealed in the post, you might have to flash defender 1 or 2 at the ball. If defender 5 is constantly getting sealed, you might need a different defender down there or a different defense.

There is always going to be adjustments you have to make based on the offense's strengths.


10/30/2009 at 7:12:24 PM



Brian Morgan says:
11/27/2009 at 12:44:25 PM

Don't you need quick personnel to run something like this? I would think the 2 man would have to be extremely fast to cover corner to corner. I think alot of teams even use their point guard there with a taller person at the 1 to make ball reversal harder.


Jeff Halefner says:
11/28/2009 at 6:55:39 AM

I have not used this defense but I have played against it a few times. From what I've seen, length and anticipation is the more important than quickness.

With tall players holding their hands high, it forces the offense to throw high lob passes. These lob passes are slow and take a long time to get there. This gives the defense plenty time to rotate and close out. You want to avoid direct quick passes because that gets you out of position. They key is to stay tall and stay in the passing lanes.

Also, anticipation is important in any defense and it's not necessary to have super quick players:


Luke Nolan says:
3/10/2010 at 3:31:06 PM

I played against this defense last night, and found that when we began running a rush offense it was easy to beat the zone while scoring high percentage lay-ups. It was tough to figure out at first though.


Chris Marcengill says:
4/13/2010 at 6:45:40 PM

My team is only giving up 30 pts a game when using the 1-3-1 correctly. It has been forcing more outside and out of range shots for the opposing team. As Luke Nolan said, you can give up alot of lay-ups if your wings fall asleep.


LoveThisGame says:
11/6/2010 at 1:58:46 PM

the season just started for me and my team, we ran a man-to-man defense but lost the game so we are starting to run the 1-3-1 as our full time defense. im the 2 or the 1 in this sitution, but im not understanding the 2's part that much. are we supposed to try to trap in the corner? cuz thats wat my coach said to do but she told us to look at this to understand and they're not the same thing. and im playing for the middle school 8th grade team, so if you could make things easier to understand i would appreciate that alot. thanx :)


Christy says:
11/23/2010 at 5:43:43 PM

I played this defense with my high school last year. As long as your quick and can anticipate the lobs, it is highly effective and easy to intercept. As long as the whole team is in good shape and can stay quick, you should have no problem throwing anyone off with this aggressive defense.


CCBball says:
11/24/2010 at 1:20:25 PM

Last night was our first game and we started out in a man on man defense (like everyone says young inexperienced player should use) and we found ourselves in a 14 point hole at halftime. I made changed them to a 1-3-1 and outscored a faster, more talented, and more experienced team by 9 points the second half. We still lost by 5 but, in my experience most highschool teams have a lot of trouble with a 1-3-1. Thanks for all the great info on this site you have been a life saver.


CCBball says:
11/24/2010 at 1:22:35 PM



zack says:
1/21/2011 at 10:14:15 PM

my 8th grade basketball team uses this defense and we run it great we usaully make the others teams create tons of turnovers!! BUT there are many many weaknesses on this defense espically when the other teams use a 4-out offense because the interior is very weak, and when they get the ball to the corner the player on the other corner can cut straight tords the hoop for a wide open layups!! also weakness are skip passes and quick ball reversals... sorry if anyone else pointed these out earlier i didnt read the comments


Coach says:
4/5/2011 at 12:49:41 PM

When I played we ran the 1-3-1 defense. Now as a coach we run it. The Lakers ran this defense when they had Magic and company. This is a very aggressive and effective defense that wreaks havoc on opponents. We like to trap out of it using the middle player to trap the corners and wing to deny the pass back out if the ball is pass to corner. There are so many things one can do with this set to confuse offenses. We also extend it full court and run a 3/4 court trap.
Our Girls love it too!


Tramaine Jones says:
10/30/2011 at 12:01:15 PM

I think I am going to try this with my 8th grade team this year. I am still debating though. Any Suggestions!


Joe Haefner says:
10/31/2011 at 10:00:27 AM

Tramaine, it will work. However, I would proceed with caution. I've been fortunate to coach teams that are elite youth players that compete nationally and recreational players that just play for fun.

No matter the age and skill level, one common theme among all of them is that they need to learn how to play man to man defense. If the youth players want a chance to make their high school teams and if they work really hard, maybe even make a college team some day, they need to understand man to man principles and they need to do a lot of skill work and competitive (1v1, 2v2, 3v3) drills.

I also was fortunate enough to be an assistant varsity coach at Blue Valley Northwest where we placed 2nd in 6A Kansas in the 2010-2011 season. We were also ranked in the top 50 nationally (don't know how they figure that out). We played a lot of man to man defense, but when we decided to play zone, we were very good because the guys knew how to guard, closeout, stay in their stance, and move on the pass. Now, do you need to learn man to man defense to get better at these things? No. But it is easier.

Even Al Marshall who plays zone defense and who we developed a zone defense product with doesn't recommend to play zone defense at the youth levels. He doesn't start having his teams play zone defense until they are sophomores in high school.

Here are some more articles on our thoughts about this:




Milemen says:
11/7/2011 at 4:56:10 PM

John Beilein is doctor for 1-3-1 zone defense


Tim Springer says:
11/17/2011 at 9:50:58 AM

This defense helped take my high school girls team to a regional finalist appearance last year. We stole the corner pass really well.

This year we have adapted to trapping the PG and will eventually get to trapping the first pass.


eric says:
1/12/2012 at 9:59:52 AM

our 10 year olds are playing against a team that runs this defense. what is the best offensive options to run?
thanks! keeping in mind our offense stuggles from the outside as it is.


Ken says:
1/13/2012 at 10:59:37 AM


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.

Most teams will run a 2-1-2 zone offense vs this.... a college coach once told me, its simple,
"put em where they aint." So show your kids where the holes / gaps in the defense are and play from there. Problem is, at this age, skip passes are almost impossible.... you might have a player penetrate a little bit and pass it to the
next player in line... keep doing that until you find a player that is in a position to score. IF you can get the ball inside to your post player, you might be able to do some damage there too.

Good luck


eric says:
1/20/2012 at 5:46:04 PM

thanks Ken!


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!


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.


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


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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