This weekend I spoke at a clinic run by our women’s program on playing against a zone.  Clinics, relationships, discussion are the best way to learn new things and improve as a coach.  When you evaluate your program, make a list of the things you need to get better at, then find a program that does that thing at a high level.  Call that coach/staff and ask them what the keys are that make them so good at it.

A summary of the key points to our approach to zone attack:

Why are they playing zone against you?

  • Match-ups – they can’t guard you
  • Slow you down
  • Force you to shoot jump shots/Keep you away from the win
  • General lack of preparation, time spent working on zone attack

Zone attack is about what you emphasize – not what you run

Important to teach your kids how to play against zone, not where to go or what to run

Key points of emphasis:

  • Ball movement – make the zone move
  • Inside-Out – make the zone collapse
  • Behind the zone – make the zone turn

Teaching points:

  • Expose the gaps – Ball movement and inside-out will create gaps in the zone – teach your players to expose them by being a receiver
  • Cut to score – A zone defenses wants you to drift/float – Why do we cut harder against man?
  • Did the ball touch the paint?  Statistically almost doubles your chances to score.
  • Put a playmaker inside the zone.  Do I really care if you have your 4 and 5 man X-ing to the free throw line and shooting contested jump shots?  Get a guard/wing who can handle it and pass it inside the middle of the zone.

“Both sides, inside-out, expose the gaps” – what my players will constantly here in practice regarding zone attack

Your transition/early offense should flow into your zone attack – Why don’t we run into our zone attack?  Don’t let the zone slow you down

In 2005 at Providence, we played Pittsburgh at home in March for the Big East regular season championship.  They shredded our zone in the second half, beat us by 25, and did not attempt one 3-point field goal against our zone.

One key to Pittsburgh’s approach?  They worked on zone attack on the very first day of practice.  It wasn’t something they waited a few weeks to put in and then practiced it sparingly.  They worked on it every day.

Big East coaches used to always say after we beat them – “We went 6-27 from 3.  You’ve got to make some shots to beat a zone.”  Exactly the approach our zone wanted you to take.

Zone sets – they are very important and allow you to expose the defense easily.  You can create an area where 1 defender has to decide between 2 players through execution and screening.





1 comment

  1. Oscar Yebra September 22, 2014 at 4:28 pm


    Hi Coach,

    It would be a pleasure to me If one day we could share our thoughts about Zone Offense because that’s something I very often had to deal with in my Pro career. We use It a lot in Spain and as far as I saw (not a few games, by the way!), most of the Colleges teams fail in their offense because they teach players to attack spaces, not defenders. Let me explain myself:
    If you are rotating the ball for example against a 2-3 Zone Defense, and as a big man you try to get the ball in the middle of the zone gap coming from the weak side without checking one of the top defenders’ body and leaving him in your back, your options to get the ball are much lower.
    Especially against very active/fighting small players.
    Bottom line, It’s almost like being in the post all the time.

    There’s a lot to talk about Zone offense and that tactical part is without a doubt one of my favourite topics.
    For me It’s all about this process:
    – Read
    – Sprint
    – Body check-Seal
    – Ask for the ball
    – Face the basket
    – Be aggressive

    I will love to hear your thoughts Coach!
    All the best,


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