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How to coach, teach and use basketball man-to-man pressure defenses

This defense can be used full court, three-quarter court, or half court. Players usually master this press faster than they will a zone press. Preseason practice drills and stressing of fundamentals are extremely important. It should be practiced one-on-one, two-on-two, three-on-three and full team picking up at full court.

Ever since the days of Dr. James A. Naismith, the strategy is basically the same. When your team loses the ball, get to your man immediately and stick to him like glue.

Area 50
Always attempt to double-team the opponent with the ball here. Take chances!

Area 40
Attempt double-teaming only when teammate has the opponent well guarded. Take less chances. Stop the dribbler!

Area 30
No double teaming unless teammate is forcing opponent to pivot away until his back is toward his own basket. Get the defense organized and intercept cross-court passes.

Area 20
Same principle applies as in Area 30.

Area 10
Always attempt to double-team an opponent who has the ball in this area.

When to use pressure

  1. When you want to surprise a team and upset their composure. Force bad passes, cause traveling, or fumbling the ball.
  2. When facing bigger opponents who are slower and feature possession offensive style of play.
  3. When behind in the score, late in the game.

Using the full-court press means playing your opponent everywhere on the court. Try to play every opponent tightly and make it difficult to pass or receive the ball. When the opponent takes the ball out of bounds, after a score, give him freedom and concentrate on covering all possible receivers. The player assigned to this inbounder places himself halfway between the nearest two opponents. All other teammates play their assignments close and aggressively.

Once the ball is inbounded, the free player attempts to double-team the first receiver. If this isn't possible, he picks up the inbounder and stick to him like glue. Teach your players to stay within one step of their opponent and on the ball side. Every player should be able to see both ball and man at all times. Switching is not allowed in the tight man to man, unless it is made to trap the ball handler.

All players must be aggressive without fouling and be double-team and interception minded. When an opponent has the ball, he must be played tightly with hands moving side to side and moving up and down to discourage a pass. Other defenders play the passing lanes.

At full-court, the strategy is to cut off outlets, assuring that the pass in-bounds will be received in the backcourt by a weaker ball handler. As an alternative, you might choose to harass the in-bounder, distracting him, preventing him from passing to a good ball handler, and forcing him to hesitate so that he may incur a five-second violation.

Another strategy is for the player guarding the in-bounder to fall off and double-team the best on-court dribbler with his defender, forcing the ball into the hands of a less-capable ball handler, then returning to pick up his out-of-bounds opponent. When successful your team will decrease their opponent’s points per possession and by so doing, will increase your own. For best results with the man-to-man defense you should look to accomplish these three objectives:

  1. Pressure the opponent to put the ball on the floor and force him to the sideline with the ball.
  2. Play the ball and the immediate outlets aggressively. Overplay each offensive man one perimeter pass from the ball by blocking every passing lane.
  3. Constantly support this aggressiveness with help from the weak side.

There are some rules to learn; however, the defensive principles remain the same. Most of these principles can be taught through four simple drills. Eventually, we will get to some of these drills. To begin with, let’s start our explanation of the duties of the player guarding the ball handler.

Guarding the player with the ball

There are three circumstances your defensive player may find himself guarding the man with the ball:

  1. The offensive player may have the ball and not yet dribbled.
  2. He may have already dribbled.
  3. He may be dribbling.

Dribble alive

Stance: In playing a man on the perimeter who’s dribble is still alive, keep the butt low, be on balance, and have a hand up and over the ball. The defender should have one foot forward; however, let the individual make that choice based on what feels natural. 

The defender should focus attention on the opponent’s belly button and should use the slide-step and not cross his feet when moving with the ball handler. Sometimes, however, if the defender is being beaten, he must cross his feet to run and catch up.

Creating Pressure: Whether 4 feet, or 40 feet from the basket, the defensive player must put and keep pressure on the ball. He plays close to his man, ideally about two to three feet away and keeps a hand in his face, yet not fouling.

Forcing the Dribble: Make the offense put the ball on the floor and influence the direction he takes. This is called, "forcing the dribble." For example, if a defensive player crowds the ball handler on his right, he forces the opponent to go left. If he crowds him left, the ball handler is usually forced to go right. If the defender lays off the ball handler, he invites him to shoot. If he plays him extremely tight, within a foot or so of the ball handler, he’s telling him to drive one way or the other.

Basketball man-to-man pressure defense diagram

Diagram D-2: You want the player guarding the ball handler to force the dribble at a 45 degree angle. It is important to note that the defender should not overplay the dribble because this could lead to a direct drive down the middle. You want to avoid this completely.

Forcing the dribbler wide takes precedent over forcing in a particular direction.

 Ideally, however, you should want to do both. As indicated earlier, the purpose in forcing sidelines is to create a weak side from which to draw support. To maintain this weak side the defenders must prevent the guard-to-guard pass.

Continued on next page>>>

Related Articles:
 How to coach the basketball man-to-man defenses
 Variations of the full-court man-to-man defense
 Drills for teaching the full-court man-to-man defense
 Differences in guarding the players who are one-pass or two-passes away
 Pivot defense inside and out with support
Transition drill: guarding against the back-door cut and All-Purpose drill
Keeping score of four-on-four drills and breaking them down


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