Pressure Man Defense – Off the Ball

By Randy Sherman

The key component of pressure man-to-man is off-the-ball defense. In Vol. 2 of this series, we take a look at playing defense one pass away.

In the previous entry we discussed on-the-ball defense and the Rooftop concept. We continue with off-the-ball defense when one pass away.

Perhaps the biggest differentiation in styles of man-to-man defense is how defenders are instructed to play when one pass away. In packline, for example, players are instructed to sink below the packline, open their stance and help early. The premise is to discourage the dribble drive and be there for a teammate when he/she needs help containing dribble penetration.

In pressure man-to-man the objective is to deny passes and disrupt the timing and ball movement of the offense. Therefore players play the passing lanes are a less available to help the on-the-ball defender. One tactic may seem more conservative and the other more aggressive, but both can be effective.

The basic principles of one pass away defense in pressure man-to-man are simple and clear.

  • Use a deny stance to discourage and limit passes to your man.
  • Force your man to catch the ball going away from the basket with their back to the rim.


One of the key components I look for when evaluating a team is “stance discipline.” Where are players in relation to the ball? Are they in the proper stance at any given time? Getting the utmost carryover to the court in regards to stance is one of the truest marks of a well-coached team.

The purpose of the deny stance is to prevent straight-line passes from one player to another. One of the over-arching themes of pressure man-to-man is to make the offense pass over or under you, but never through you.

Beginning with the proper deny stance is vital. Below are some teaching points for off the ball stance one pass away:

  • Place a hand and foot in the passing lane
  • Be “above” your man with butt towards the basketball
  • Both feet should be in a line towards the rim
  • Put your chin on your shoulder
  • Palm away and thumb down

In the photo below, Fred VanVleet (#23) of Wichita State demonstrates a solid deny stance one pass away. He is up the line with his butt to the basketball. His chin is on his shoulder where he can see both ball and man. He has a hand and foot in the passing lane. (Wichita State has very high “stance discipline” and carryover to game night.)


Teach players to jump the direction of the pass and into deny stance immediately. The further the ball is away from the rim, the further “up the line” players should be. On the perimeter, wing defenders should be approximately half way between the ball and their man in the above described stance.

To help with dribble penetration in pressure man-to-man defense it can be helpful to utilize a technique from the Bob Huggins and Frank Martin coaching tree called “plugging with the butt.” Being far up the line can deter dribble penetration as much as an open “packline” stance and position.

But when a gap is attacked, the player one pass away can stay in deny stance and back themselves into the gap and plug it with their backside. This allows the off the ball defender to maintain sight of their man and it does not leave the defense as susceptible to drive-and-kick threes. Below, Valparaiso demonstrates the “plugging with the butt” concept.


Below is a drill to emphasize concepts such as wing deny and plugging with the butt. (Click on image to add it to your FastModel library.)

In this drill players should always force the offensive players to catch going away from the basket with their back to the rim. Coaches should emphasize wing defenders getting further up the line as players cut further from the basket and narrowing the physical gap when players cut toward the rim.

Advance to include the plugging concept, close outs and helping on baseline drives.

Continue the pressure man defense conversation: 

Explore and use the Twitter hashtag #PressureManTips as well!

Any questions: Happy to talk hoops any time day or night! If you would like to be added to the motion offense and pressure man defense mailing list, email and let me know!




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Randy Sherman is the owner and founder of Radius Athletics - a basketball coaching consulting firm - where he consults with basketball coaches at all levels on coaching philosophy, practice planning, Xs & Os and teaching a conceptual style of basketball. While a head basketball coach at the the interscholastic level, Sherman's teams won 197 games in nine seasons.

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