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Basketball is Fundamental: The 2-3 zone

Let’s take a look at the basics of the 2-3 Zone Defense we’ll see run by Coach Hopkins

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NCAA Basketball: Clemson at Syracuse Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

The 2-3 Zone is a staple of Syracuse Basketball. Jim Boeheim is the master of the scheme and is well-versed in teaching it to his players and coaches over the course of 50 years in the sport. As we know, Coach Mike Hopkins, a long-time assistant under Boeheim, is bringing the zone to Washington this season. We take a basic look at the 2-3 Zone.

There are a lot of details and intricacies with the zone and we present to you the “basics” and as we go through this season we may look at it even more and dissect the pros and cons.

What is the 2-3 Zone?

Whereas man-to-man defense has a player defend another player, the zone defense has the player cover a certain area of the court. The zone can be advantageous as it helps with players that are in foul trouble and/or are not great individual defensive players. It should also help with defending the perimeter.

How does It work?


The guards will typically play high in the 2-3 zone. This means that they usually will play above the 3-point line pressuring the ball. The two will work in tandem to defend. One will cover the ball, while the other sags into the paint to prevent the high post pass and/or drive to the hoop.

The high guards’ responsibilities include:

Preventing high post feeds

Stopping drives to the paint

Prevent/contest shots


The wings will have the responsibility of covering the corners but also will need to play high in the zone. You’ll note in the above gif that the forward is coming up to the top to contest the 3-point shot. This is where length is helpful. The forward on the wings will not only need to contest at the top to help the guard but also close out on the corner shooter to prevent a 3.

They also must prevent the pass back.

The wings will start a little tighter in the paint to support the center. Yet, the Forward on the wing must get up on the shooter while defending the corner three. They also must “bump” down the corner player to the baseline. The bottom wings are important as they have a lot of responsibility in the 2-3 zone. The forwards on each of the wings must be able to close out perimeter shooters at the top of the elbow but also be able to bump back down to their area once the guard at the top gets close.

The wings’ responsibilities include:

No three-point shots

No post feeds

No drives into the lane


The Center’s responsibility is to prevent the lob or backdoor. In addition, he will be tasked with defending the high post. If this happens, the wings must crash down toward the basket to defend dives to the hoop. Ideally, the player in the center of the Zone must be a threat to block a shot as well as box out to rebound.

Attacking the 2-3 zone

Feeding the High Post – When an offensive player, usually a Forward or Center gets the ball at the foul line (usually at one end or the other). The player has a chance to take a shot if the center or wings do not contest. If the center rotates to the high post to contest, the wings must defend the basket to prevent a dive to the basket.

Ball Screens – Look for these at the top of the key in which the point guard sets up the screen for the big man

The Skip Pass – Basically throwing the ball over the zone to a player on the other side of the court. It’s reversing the ball in hopes of throwing off the rotation of the zone. At times, we’ll see this happen with the use of a “flare screen” to get the player open. No flare screen below, but watch how the skip pass is used to get an open shot.

Can this roster play the 2-3?

The Huskies did not do well in its exhibition game last week against St. Martin’s College. The defense allowed St. Martin’s to shoot 53 percent from 3 and nearly 46 percent from the field. Last year’s average yielded opponents to shoot almost 40% from 3 and 46% from the field

The good news is that the Huskies produced 9 steals against St. Martin’s. Last year, the Dawg defenses averaged 6. I realize it’s just an exhibition, but these are numbers to be on the lookout for with the new defensive scheme.

In my opinion, the bottom half of the zone (i.e., wings and center) will be the most important part of the scheme. During a media session on Wednesday, Hopkins noted that Sam Timmins will be a vital part of the defense this year because he will be able to clog up the paint and be a solid rim protector. I would suspect that Noah Dickerson will also be a big part of the success of the zone as the center and wing. Also, true freshman Hameir Wright fits right into the 2-3 and could see some playing time right off the bat due to his athleticism and length. Wright will be an intriguing player to see how he will be utilized by Hopkins this year.

The overarching issue with the Huskies is for them is to improve defensively. Can the 2-3 zone alleviate some of the defensive lapses from last year’s team? It depends on how much Coach Hopkins can coach them up and motivate them to defend. It will also depend on the players learning the concepts of the zone. As I pointed out above, there are a handful of ways to attack a zone, but expect more detailed, complex offensive sets from some of the teams the Dawgs face. This is a learning process. Just remember that when you watch them through the first part of this season.