1-3-1 zone in basketball
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How To Beat A 1-3-1 Zone In Basketball: Defense Analysis

Have you ever played against a 1-3-1 zone defense in basketball? It can be frustrating to play against, but it is also possible to beat. Understanding the 1-3-1 zone’s functionality and knowing what your team should do to defend it are the keys to success. For more details on how to defeat a 1-3-1 zone defense, visit this blog post!

What is a 1-3-1 Zone Defense in Basketball?

Teams at many different levels use the distinctive 1-3-1 zone defense. Several youth teams have used it successfully up to college basketball. This defense is most effective against teams with long, athletic players, but it may also be used well against teams with a diversity of athletes with a few easy changes.

The 1-3-1 zone defense is fundamentally an aggressive defensive that relies on blocking passing lanes, anticipating plays, and deflecting shots to force mistakes and give your team a chance to go on a fast break.

You must be prepared to play quick basketball if you decide to use the 1-3-1 zone defense for your team. In comparison to most defenses, the 1-3-1 zone defense has a very unique concept.

The 1-3-1 defense prevents normal passing lanes, forcing the offensive team to throw lob passes over the defense, pass slow bounce passes around the defense, or attack off the dribble, in contrast to most defenses where a player is always defending directly between the opponent with the basketball and the basket.

The defensive team has several opportunities as a result to read the pass and secure interceptions or steals.

1-3-1 zone in basketball

How To Counter the 1-3-1 Zone Defense?

To beat the 1-person, you must pass around them. This will allow your teammates to set up their offense safely and stop the defender from trapping anyone on your team. If you attempt to drive through the defense by yourself, they are likely to steal or block any shots that come near them!

It’s also important for attackers not to dribble into traps. If you see two defenders rushing towards one of your players with outstretched arms (or even better…hearing “GET IT BACK!” shouted!), don’t be afraid to kick it back above board where there is more room.

You can use this same situation as an opportunity for a quick fast-break. Make sure everyone starts running when possession changes hands!

A common mistake made by attackers is to run straight toward the 1-person. If you find yourself in this situation, quickly change direction and drive towards the side of the court. Where there are fewer defenders (AKA “weak” or “low”).

If everyone on your team is aware of how it works, this tactic can be quite successful! Passing around a zone defense will cause them to become out of position, giving you more space than if you tried to attack via one defender.

Making sure that every pass results in an open shot by avoiding traps and positioning players in the right places is crucial when dismantling their formation.

How to Practise Going Against the 1-3-1 Zone?

Practising to beat a 1-3-1 zone defense in basketball is a lot of fun! You can even create your 1-person and have players rotate from being “trappers” to defenders.

The drill starts with all the offensive players getting together in one corner of the court while everyone else gets into their positions on defense (one person per area). Once they give you the signal, dribble out to midcourt before passing it back down low where another player will begin their attack.

This pattern continues until everybody has had at least two turns going against the zone. Then switch sides or start over depending on what kind of drills you’re doing that day!

This drill works because nobody knows who’s going after the next which helps make sure no passes are wasted when trying to find an open teammate. It’s also a lot of fun to try and fake out the 1-person as they attempt to block any shots that come their way!

Communication is Key!

The key is knowing how your teammates will react before you receive the ball so that everyone can properly position themselves to get off a good shot without getting trapped by two defenders at once.

In games or contests where teamwork is crucial, this drill is quite helpful because it calls for strong communication between participants.

We are aware that having multiple players attack won’t always result in success, even when done right. Instead of placing attackers in awkward situations where they can be quickly halted without having a way out, it gives them options. Everywhere on the court can be used to attack, but if you start to become too predictable, your opponents will start to take advantage of the zone defense.

Besides being fun when you know how it works, this drill is also an excellent way for teams to practice breaking down different types of zones. Once they have mastered passing around one defender, they can jump right into more complex formations with multiple 1-players that are next to each other or spread out across the court.

Instead of staying all together at midcourt, say goodbye to getting trapped under their basket and enjoy some open shots on goal until somebody else switches over onto defense!

Go for The Long-Range Shot

It’s time for a shot from behind the half-board if there is no space left in the paint but no one appears open either (AKA “long-range”). This either forces the zone defense to shift to one side of the floor or forces everyone back on defense to make more room for your team.

This is also an excellent way to draw their attention away from attackers who are receiving a pass on the other side – quickly switch sides before they can react!

1-3-1 zone in basketball

Weaknesses of The 1-3-1 Zone Defense

It’s important to know which weaknesses to exploit in a 1-3-1 zone defense, here are some:

  • Defenders can get “switched” if they are not close enough to their assigned area.
  • The 1 defender has a hard time stopping attacks from the outside, especially when attackers have more than one option or switch sides of the court quickly.
  • If all defenders move towards an attacker who is coming from behind half board it will create room for another player to attack the goal! This means that you don’t necessarily need a direct shot against this formation – as long as no defender blocks your path and you’re quick about getting into position before they react!
  • A zone defense is only as strong as its weakest link. If all defenders work together and communicate, they can cover each other’s backs and switch sides of the court to prevent any attackers from getting through – even if it means leaving their assigned area unguarded for a while!

So What is The Best Offense Formation Against The 1-3-1 Zone Defense?

The most ideal offense against a 1-3-1 zone defense is the 2-1-2 offense, as it gives attackers more options instead of forcing them into a single line that can easily be stopped.

This formation is also the most popular with high school and college teams because there are always at least two people who have time to call out what’s going on before deciding how to attack!

The 1-player in this offense should work together with any other players around their area, which makes communication between every player necessary – so make sure everyone knows what they’re doing beforehand!

The objective of all offenses is still to get a shot off fast, but if defenders manage to stick right next to your shooter against a top-notch zone defense like the 1-in/out, you may require many shoots or even passes!

This means that attackers should always be on the lookout for a long-range shot if they don’t have any other options – and hopefully, you’ll get your team thinking outside of the box so that next time, there’s one more option to pull through.


  • High passing accuracy due to shorter distance between players
  • More space near goal area because defenders are spread out across their zones


  • 1 defender can easily stop attacks from inside or behind half board without leaving their zone unguarded (attacking from anywhere else is difficult)
1-3-1 zone in basketball

Top 5 Strategies to counter 1-3-1 zone defense

1. Use an Even Front Setup

Most teams will use an “even front” setup when playing against a 1-3-1 defense.

The two main options are:

2-1-2 Setup — Two players in the slots, a player in the high post, and two players in the corners.

2-3 Setup — Two players in the slots, a player in the high post, and two players on the wings.

The point of this is to split the “chaser” at the top of the zone. The two players at the top will usually be your point guard (1) and either a trailing big (4) or a second guard (2), but all players should understand the responsibilities of each position.

2. Shift the Defense

Two players at the top gives you the option to easily shift the defense from side to side. This is super effective at the beginning of the possession when the top defender first steps up to guard the ball, especially if the defense likes to trap at the top.

Before crossing the halfway line or just as the defender commits, players have the option to reverse the ball to a trailing teammate on the opposite side of the court. This stifles any traps and forces the defense to shift to the opposite side of the floor. The receiver will have several important seconds to attack / create if there’s a gap.

3. Best Playmaker in the High Post

Many coaches choose the wrong player to put in the high post.

It’s common for teams to automatically put the tallest player on the team there — which somewhat makes sense because it’s a difficult pass and they’re a bigger target — but I’ve found teams have more success putting their best playmaker in the high post.

“Best playmaker” meaning a player who can score themselves AND create for others. You need someone there who can quickly read the defense and make smart decisions.

4. Disciplined Court Spacing

Nothing you read in this article will help if your players don’t keep good spacing. They should constantly search for and move into open space on the perimeter.

The 1-3-1 defense is effective because it creates havoc and confusion, so having off-ball players continually working to get open and find holes is crucial. Using a 2-1-2 or 2-3 setup will help your team achieve this.

5. Attack the Gaps

If your players are spaced correctly and constantly moving into open space, there will be many opportunities to “attack the gaps” in the zone. The key to this is reading the defense BEFORE catching the ball.

(Players who catch the ball and then survey the defense will be too slow)

If a player already knows there’s a drivable gap as they catch, they can immediately put the ball on the floor and attack before the defense has a chance to rotate. The goal is to “collapse” the defense. Attacking the gaps in the zone will force help which leaves teammates open.


In conclusion, a 1-in/out 1-three one-zone defense is a difficult formation to beat. However, there are many ways to counter it as long as you have the right strategy and plan ahead of time!

The key thing about beating this formation is having good communication between teammates and knowing when the right time to attack will be! By understanding how everything works both offensively and defensively you can help your team win more often against any type of tough opponent!

What do you think? Are there any other ways to beat a 1-3-1 zone in basketball? Let us know in the comments below.


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