Middle Tennessee State – 1-3-1 Zone

By Matt Wheeler

Middle Tennessee State University has made it out of the first round of the NCAA Tournament as the underdog two years in a row.  One of the keys to their success is the unique variations of the 1-3-1 defense that they use.  

Middle Tennessee State plays a very aggressive version of the 1-3-1 zone, but what makes them different is how they rotate out of it to completely change their defense within the same possession.  This can slow down their opponent and force them to get into a play late in the shot clock.

1-3-1 Base Defense Responsibilities

1-3-1 Zone

x4 – Halfcourt

  • Very active, athletic long defender.
  • Picks up the ball at half court area.
  • Keeps the ball on one side of the court.
  • Must forces lob passes.  No straight line passes.

x5 – Middle

  • Put your biggest player here.
  • Starts usually a step above the 3 point line
  • Stays in a line between the ball and the rim.
  • Active with hands up all the time.  This takes away the ball handler’s vision and forces lob passes.
  • Steps up to contain dribble penetration.

x3 – Baseline

  • Usually your most athletic player and a tough defender.
  • Plays on top of all baseline screens so as not to get pinned.
  • Has one foot in the paint and one foot out on the ball side while ball is up top.
  • Needs to be your best communicator.  Calls out all cutters especially into the middle.

x1 & x2 – Wings

  • Strong Side
    • Forces out and up into the trap.
    • Plays with high hands and forces lob passes.
    • Looks to aggressively trap early in the possession when on their side of the floor.
  • Weak Side
    • Must protect the basket.  Can’t give up diagonal pass.
    • Can extend up the floor depending on where the cutter is and how good the trap is.



1-3-1 to 2-3 Defense Rotations and Responsibilities

The defense stays in a 1-3-1 zone until there is a pass to the baseline.  Once this pass is made the defense switches into a 2-3 zone for the remainder of the possession.



  • Closes out hard with 2 hands to guard the ball.
  • Must contain the ball.


  • Sprints to the ball side block to take away post entry passes.
  • Stays between ball and rim.


  • Sprints to the backside of the zone.
  • Needs to be very active and anticipate block out situations or potential closeouts on ball reversals.


  • Provides help at the basket until x4 arrives.
  • Must be ready for block out situations against a bigger player.
  • Once x4 arrives, guards the skip pass opposite.


  • Drops into help.

1-3-1 to Man Defense Rotations and Responsibilities

Another wrinkle to the 1-3-1 defense that Middle Tennessee uses is switching out of it into man to man.  They will still play the same 1-3-1 base coverage but this time when the ball is passed to the baseline they match-up man to man for the remainder of the possession.



  • Closes out hard and guards the ball.


  • Protects the basket, picking up the closest offensive player in the area.


  • Sprints to guard the weakside baseline, guarding the closest offensive player.


  • Drops to help x4 and communicates a matchup.


  • Sprints to help and matches up the player who passed the ball to the baseline.

The off-season is the ideal time to take your coaching game to the next level. Get FastDraw today and organize your #XsOs like a pro!


The following two tabs change content below.

Matt Wheeler

Matt Wheeler is currently an assistant coach for the women's basketball program at Daytona State College. Some of his primary responsibilities there include film breakdown and scouting. For the last 4 seasons he has helped to build a new program at Windermere High School, where they were able to reach the state final four in the school's second year of existence. Before that Coach Wheeler served 6 seasons at Olympia High School where he spent time as assistant boys varsity coach, head girls varsity coach, and head boys varsity coach. During his tenure there he saw 5 players reach the Division 1 level and 16 players receive basketball scholarships. Previously, Coach Wheeler was an assistant coach at Montverde Academy under then head coach Kevin Sutton. While at Montverde Academy he assisted with player development, conditioning programs and created team playbooks & scouting reports. Coach Wheeler's experience also includes winning the 2008 3A Girls Basketball Florida State Championship as an assistant at Bishop Moore Catholic High School. Coach Wheeler was born and raised in Portland, Oregon. He got his coaching start at Cascade College where he was the student assistant for the women’s basketball program while also participating on the men’s JV basketball team. Coach Wheeler resides in Orlando, Florida with his wife Kiana and his baby girl Noa.

Related posts