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Successful Man to Man Defensive Concepts - Chris Leazier

One of the interesting things about basketball is the variation in strategies and tactics employed by successful teams. This is certainly true of defensive basketball. While there are some teams that apply aggressive ball pressure and overplay passing lanes, other teams concede the advantages associated with pressure and instead prioritize protecting the lane and keeping the offense in front of them at all times. Other successful teams use zone defense exclusively, while others use some version of a full court press as their preferred defensive scheme.


All of these defensive strategies and tactics can be successful, provided the following:

  • The strategy is based on a sound plan that accounts for the types of offenses the team will encounter

  • The coach communicates the plan clearly and the players understand the strategy

  • Practices are structured in such a way as to give the players adequate repetition on the team concepts and individual defensive techniques that the strategy requires


I've spent 25 years teaching and coaching primarily man-to-man defense. The goal of this blog post is to describe key components to having a good man-to-man defensive team.


Building an effective defense begins with a plan for what the team will do when they are on offense. Specifically, when the team shoots, how will they designate responsibility for offensive rebounding and responsibility for getting back to protect the opponent basket. We call this concept Floor Balance. We send the 4 and 5 to the boards for offensive rebounding coverage, the 1 and 2 back for basket protection, and the 3 moves to the top of the key area to collect long offensive rebounds. If a long offensive rebounding opportunity doesn’t materialize, the 3 joins 1 and 2 in the backcourt.


The second concept we introduce is the concept of Ball Side / Help Side. This is a well-known basketball concept that divides the floor in half with an imaginary line between both rims. If/when the ball is on a definitive side of the court, defenders on the opposite side of the court shift toward the imaginary help line. This shift is often referred to as Loading to the Ball but can be thought of more generally as aligning the defense to provide more defensive players in the area of the ball than there are offensive players.


Our third defensive concept builds on the Ball Side / Help Side concept and is called Initial Guarding Position. This refers to how we set up our defense once we are back and have taken the opponent out of Transition. Given the Ball Side / Help Side concept, there are only three defensive positions:

  1. Defending the ball

  2. Defending one pass away from the ball

  3. Defending more than one pass away from the ball


The first three concepts we teach, then, are really concepts whose aim is to get our defense back and properly positioned. By getting our defense back and aligned properly, we aim to eliminate early and easy scoring opportunities for the opponent.

Of course, eliminating opponent Transition is only the first layer of a successful defense. The defense must now be ready to handle the opponent’s half-court offense. This requires that the defense adjust to the player movement and ball movement of the offense, and therefore introduces our fourth concept, Repositioning. Repositioning is really the heart and soul of a defense…it’s one thing to be able to align the defense properly, but another to move quickly, efficiently, and together. Effective repositioning requires anticipation, communication, and a desire to help your teammates. If the on-ball defender is beat, who helps to the ball? How do help side defenders rotate to help the helper and to defend the basket? These are the questions that a team’s Repositioning rules must address. Defensive teams that reposition well are beautiful to watch as proper repositioning represents unselfish defensive play whose offensive equivalent is making the extra pass.


Anyone that has coached basketball knows that the first 4 concepts are all well and good, but they are meaningless unless a team understands the importance of the fifth and sixth concepts – Rebounding and Eliminating Fouling.


A team that gets back, establishes an initial guarding position, and repositions in a connected way isn’t a good defensive team until they can execute in those areas without fouling and can finish the defensive sequence by securing the rebound. Fouling and failure to rebound negate otherwise effective defensive play and are among the most demoralizing things for a defense.


To review, we teach six basic concepts when implementing our man-to-man defense:

  1. Floor Balance – get back; no opponent Fast Break baskets

  2. Ball Side / Help Side – this is our concept that dictates how we build our defensive wall

  3. Initial Guarding Position – are you guarding the ball, guarding one pass away, or guarding two passes away?

  4. Repositioning – Jump to the ball…if the ball moves, you move…talk and communicate with your teammates…be ready to lend help…be physical with cutters

  5. Rebound – be physical and go get it

  6. Eliminate Fouling – fouling is not good defense; fouling is a function of poor positioning and untimely repositioning


It must be emphasized that in order for a team defense to be effective, the key concepts must be combined with sound individual defensive techniques. The purpose of this blog post was to lay out an overall concept and structure for the defense; however, unless that structure is combined with sound and well-drilled individual techniques, the defense won’t be good.

Good luck to your team. Get them bought-in to playing hard and getting some stops! A good defense gives a team confidence, knowing that even on a night when the offense is a little choppy, the defense will give the team a chance to win.


-Chris Leazier (State College HS Varsity Girls Coach: State College, PA)


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