5 Advantages of Running the 1-3-1 Defense

By Rory Hamilton

This is part 1 of a 4 part series on the 1-3-1 zone defense by Coach Rory Hamilton 

As we approach the upcoming season, coaches often use the summer months to reflect upon every facet of his or her basketball program. From strength and conditioning programs to combating junk defenses, coaches are always searching for ways to improve and grow their programs. In this blog series, I would like to share with you our 1-3-1 defense. There have been numerous NCAA coaches over the years use the 1-3-1 defense with much success. John Beilein, Mike Lonergan, Seth Greenberg, Bill Carmody and most recently Chris Mack to name a few. Each have added their own little wrinkle but kept the basic tenants of the defense. The 1-3-1 has been integral part of my defensive playbook for over 23 years both as a player and coach.

 Here are five advantages we like about running the 1-3-1 defense:

  1. Uniqueness – Most teams have numerous ways to attack 2-3, 3-2, 1-2-2 and match-up zones. However, those same teams may only have one or two different ways to attack your 1-3-1. With limited ways to attack your 1-3-1, it becomes easier to drill, scout, and make adjustments. The defense also gives you a competitive advantage due to its uniqueness. Teams must spend extra practice time preparing for the defense, which may take away from another important areas. It is also great for quick turn around games where your opponent has little to no practice time.
  2. Versatility – Whether you play a traditional Dean Smith “point zone”, an extended John Beilein zone, or a hybrid like Chris Mack at Xavier, the 1-3-1 is adaptable to your personnel and team. If you have a team with great length, the 1-3-1 is perfect by distorting passing. If you have a quick and athletic team, you may want to be aggressive and trap out of your 1-3-1.  The defense is also great if you have one tremendous post player you want to keep out of foul trouble and keep close to the basket. The defense allows you to anchor your big close to the basket and always keep in great rebounding position.
  3. Limit Dribble Penetration – One of the reasons I love the 1-3-1 is that it is great at limiting dribble penetration. Keeping the ball out of the paint is paramount in any defensive scheme. The 1-3-1 always has three defenders near the ball handler ready to form an “umbrella” trap and funnel the ball away from the paint. If you have teams on your schedule with great penetrating guards, this defense may be perfect for your team.
  4. Exploits Bad Passing – I believe passing is the weakest fundamental in young players today. The 1-3-1 distorts passing lanes and can make even the easiest pass difficult.  By forcing lob and skip passes, you can increase the number of deflections and steals which may lead to easy baskets for your team in transition.
  5. Dictates Tempo and Style – The 1-3-1 can be a great equalizer for your team and give you a competitive advantage.  There are some teams on  your schedule you need to speed up to be effective, and others you may need to slow down.  The 1-3-1 gives you that need versatility.   Also, it forces teams into playing the way you want them to play.  Again, the majority of  teams will use a 2-1-2 alignment to attack your 1-3-1 thus you have forced their alignment and dictated where there shots will come from.

Check out the rest of the 1-3-1 zone defense series here:

Part 2: 5 Keys to a Successful 1-3-1 Defense

Part 3: Player Positioning & Rules

Part 4: 1-3-1 Comprehensive Drill Package

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Rory Hamilton

Rory Hamilton has 21 years of basketball coaching experience at the collegiate and high school level. Coach Hamilton is the current girls basketball coach at Norman North High School. In 5 years his team has posted a 85-49 record, won four mid-season tournament titles and appeared in five 6A area tournaments. In 2019, Norman North won the silver ball losing in the 6A state championship game to Norman High School. Coach Hamilton was named Central Oklahoma Conference girls coach of the year along with earning Oklahoma Girls Basketball Coaches Association Large Class All-State coach. Prior to Norman North, he served as the head girls coach at Mount St. Mary Catholic High School in Oklahoma City, OK. In seven years at MSM, he posted a 108-75 record and is the winningest girls coach in school history. Coach Hamilton led the Rockets to three consecutive 4A state tournament appearances. In 2011-2012, the Rockets had a 20-7 record and made it to the state tournament for the first time in school history. The next year in 2012-2013, the Rockets posted a 25-6 record and earned the silver ball, losing in the 4A state championship game to Fort Gibson. In 2013-2014, the Rockets posted a 23-7 record and lost to Anadarko in the 4A state tournament semifinals. Coach Hamilton was named Central Oklahoma Conference coach of the year three times and was selected to coach the Little All-City all-star game three consecutive years from 2012-2014. Coach Hamilton has coached 6 NCAA Division 1 players, 6 NCAA Division II players and several playing at the NAIA and NJCAA levels.

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  2. Coach Mac said:

    Keep this series coming Coach! 🙂 Looking forward to seeing the rest of it. We are looking to install this next season. Hoping you cover this, but biggest question I have (not having taught a 1-3-1 before):
    Can you still force baseline? Would you want to?
    We have utilized a 2-3 zone along with our denial man (Huggins early 2000’s concepts). System-wise, we force sideline to baseline –> trap and help with the same concepts within both defenses. It has worked extremely well to teach this as a team defensive standard. Thoughts?

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  4. Pingback: 1-3-1 Defense Drill Package - FastModel Sports