2–3 zone defense

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Basketball Defense 2-3 Zone.svg
2–3 zone initial alignment
2–3 zone Defense
Type:Half court zone defense
Name Usage
Technical name:2–3 zone Defense
Common name:2–3 zone
Other common names:2–1–2 zone
Play Development Credit
Designed 1st by:Coach Cam Henderson
Year play 1st used:1914
Play 1st used by:Bristol high school
Country:United States

The 2–3 zone defense is a defensive strategy used in basketball as an alternative to man-to-man defense. It is referred to as the 2–3 because of its formation on the court, which consists of two players at the front of the defense (and closer to half court) and three players behind (and closer to the team's basket).



In 1914, Eli Camden "Cam" Henderson's Bristol High School first used a 3–2 zone defense against Clair Bee's team, Grafton YMCA, in West Virginia. The zone defense was used because the gym floor was made of green pine and it was very slippery when wet, when the roof leaked. [1]

The 3-2 zone defense did not provide the rebounding support for the fast break that Cam Henderson was using. The top defender dropped back to form the 2–3 zone. Henderson developed this style of basketball successfully at Davis & Elkins College, before moving on to coach at Marshall University.

In 1938, Marshall University upset Long Island University, to snap their 40-game winning streak. [2]

In 1947, Henderson led Marshall to a National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) championship title with his 2–3 zone defense and fast break offense. [3]

In 2003, Syracuse University coach Jim Boeheim led his team to an NCAA Tournament championship playing the 2–3 zone, which has become Boeheim's trademark.

How to play a 2–3 zone defense

The widespread use of the 2–3 zone is likely due to its somewhat intuitive operation. The two players on the top of the zone are usually a team's guards, and they guard the zones closest to them on the perimeter and three-point arc. In the same way, a team's forwards guard the sides of the zone and its center guards the lane and center of the defense. As the opposing team moves with the basketball around the court, the zone as a whole shifts accordingly.

The individuals that make up a 2–3 zone are often described as "being on a string." This means that as one player moves, he pulls the imaginary string (which is attached to every defensive player) and therefore pulls the entire defense in that same direction. As the ball moves throughout the court, every player should shift simultaneously in the direction of the ball. When a player in the zone is shifting, that player should look to fill in gaps of space vacated by other shifting players and also guard offensive players in that space.

For example, if a player with the ball stood on the right wing (beyond the three-point arc), defensive players 1 and 2 would shift towards that direction. To effectively operate the 2–3 zone, a defense must move as a whole. In this case, that would mean every defensive player shifting around 5 to 6 feet in the direction of the right wing and the player with the ball. Similarly, if that player moved to the right corner, the 4 player would move to guard him and the rest of the defense would shift towards that direction. So much so, in fact, that ideally no defensive players should be on the left side of the court at all, because it would require several passes, or a long pass(skip pass) through the defense to get the ball to the left side.

Key points of emphasis

Strengths of the 2–3 zone

The 2–3 zone is a very effective defense when executed properly. This defense's strong suits include:

Weaknesses of the 2–3 zone

On the other hand, there are many reasons why many coaches prefer not to use the zone. Its strengths can easily become its weaknesses, which include:


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  1. Basketball by David L. Porter
  2. Coach Don Casey & Ralph Pim, Own the Zone – Executing & attacking the zone defense, New York: McGraw Hill, 2008, p. 18
  3. Coach Don Casey & Ralph Pim, Own the Zone – Executing & attacking the zone defense by Charlie Halford New York: McGraw Hill, 2008, p. 19
  4. http://sports.espn.go.com/ncb/ncaatourney03/story?id=1532389