If you can't play man to man, then you can't play a successful zone. Ask any coach and they will all give you the same answer. However, many coaches prefer zone over man to man. Take Syracuse for example, they play a 2-3 zone the entire game. It really is a coaches preference, but I'll give you a brief argument for playing man to man in this blog. To be honest, I have gone back and forth on this topic during my coaching career, but currently prefer man over zone for a few reasons.
Man to Man
1. Players have to be able to defend their opponent in 1 on 1 situations during a game. Even in the Syracuse 2-3 zone you have to be able to defend on the wing and can't let the opponent constantly penetrate into the middle of the zone. I firmly believe that you have to learn to play man to man before you can teach an effective zone. People watch Syracuse play a 2-3 zone and fail to realize that these are some of the best college players in the entire country. They also have played man before and have a basic understanding of man to man concepts. Many of the teams that play zone in high school and at the youth level fail to understand that players need to know basic man to man principles too.
2. It applies pressure to your opponent. Teams that play man to man really well do a great job at pressuring the ball. This isn't to say that you can't pressure the ball with a good 1-3-1 zone or even a zone press, but man to man offers teams a few additional options. The idea of having a man in your shirt 1 on 1 the entire game is difficult for many players to handle. That pressure can cause turnovers, which can then lead to easy baskets. My teams have played zone in the past, but I really think you can pressure teams even more using a man defense. You can also make them play a lot faster than they are used to.
3. Tempo. Next week I'll talk about the ways a zone can change the tempo of a game. However, man can help to speed teams up, slow them down, or really make them play at any pace. I have seen teams like Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) speed up their opponents for 40 minutes. At the same time, I have also seen a team like Wisconsin play great half court man with a slow down offense to control the tempo. It really depends on your preference, but you can definitely dictate the tempo of the game with your man defense.
4. Good man to man defense can seem like a zone. True story, I have actually coached in a game where the opposing coach thought we were playing zone the first few possessions. The players were in good help position and our rotations were excellent. The lack of motion in their offense made it difficult for them to realize we were actually playing straight man. This doesn't happen often, but if you teach proper rotations and help defense, then man to man can have some zone principles. Look at Louisville for example. They played a switching man defense in the form of a 2-3 match up zone. It actually had elements of both man and zone. Tough to teach kids at the high school level, but can be very effective as we saw with Louisville this year.
5. You have great athletes. The picture above is from Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU), which also happens to be my favorite college team. They press full court man for 40 minutes and run and jump you at every opportunity. They have great athletes that can pressure, or "heat up", the ball and force teams into turnovers. Take advantage of your athleticism and play man.
6. You have smart players that understand the game, but aren't as athletic. Play man. You might not press for 40 minutes, but you can play a tough half court man defense. As long as players are in good help position, rotate properly, and communicate then you should be fine.
7. You have a better chance to get rebounds. Many teams think you rebound better in zone and should play it if your team is small. Actually, most coaches will tell you it is easier to rebound in a man to man defense. Get in position, find your man, and box out. Naturally, there are times when you are in help position on the weak side of a man defense, but you should still be able to find your man to box out. I suggest working this as a drill in practice.
These are just a few of the reasons that I prefer playing man to man over zone these days. I could give you an even lengthier response and if you want one feel free to ask me. However, I still have been known to throw in a little zone to mix it up. I try to stay open minded.
Next week, I'll talk about zone defense and the ways it can benefit your team. Hope you enjoyed the blog!
And I can't forget.....Hard work beats talent, if talent fails to work hard