Defending Disadvantage Situations

By Randy Sherman

Transition defense starts with being able to defend in disadvantage or outnumbered situations.

On paper, basketball is played 5v5. But in application basketball is played in advantage/disadvantage situations. Creating advantage situations is paramount for offense and the ability to neutralize disadvantages makes for championship defense.

The difference between winning and losing may come down to success or failure in a few advantage/disadvantage situations. Players should be taught how to play both offense and defense in advantage/disadvantage situations. They happen far too often in games to be ignored or devalued in practice.

Here are some tips for defending in disadvantage situations along with a few advantage/disadvantage drills to reinforce the concepts.

Defending The 1v0

Some keys for defending in the 1vo situation:

  • “Wolf” – Pursue the dribbler from behind
  • Sprint back! Get back in the play. “You are never too late on defense.”
  • Attempt to block the shot low with the near hand
  • Do not assume the offense will score. Rebound! Do not go past the backboard!
  • Catching a dribbler from behind to block or disrupt a shot is a momentum changing play

“1v1 Wolf” is an advantage/disadvantage drill that reinforces defending the 1v0.


The offensive player (BLUE1) starts in outlet box. The defensive player (BLACK1) is out of bounds with the ball on the baseline. He/she is the “wolf.”

The defense inbounds to the offense and begins to chase the offensive player. The offense wants to finish with an extended layup if the defender is trailing or an outside-inside stride stop if defender gets on inside hip. Get to the rim in as few dribbles as possible.

The defender tries to block the shot low using their near hand. The defender avoids over-pursuing. DO NOT GO PAST THE BACKBOARD! Rebound any missed shot!

If the defender is able to catch up and get in front of the offense, it becomes 1v1 Live.

Offense and defense switch for the return trip down the opposite side of the court.

Defending The 2v1

In all defensive disadvantage situations, and especially those occurring in a live ball breakaway, defenders must sprint back (“Wolf”) without hesitation. A disadvantage situation should never last more than two or three seconds.

While defending the 2v1, keep these pointers in mind:

Refer to the graphic above and use these coaching points when preparing players to defend in the 2v1 disadvantage.

  • Stunt & Retreat (Frame 1) – “Buy time.” Every extra pass or dribble the offense is forced to make provides an opportunity for one additional defensive player to get back in the play. Contain the dribbler; stunt & retreat, do not reach or attempt to steal the ball.
  • Play The Pass (Frame 2) – Often the dribbler will pass the ball before forcing the defense to commit. They pass rather than drive/shoot in a 2v1. Stunt to elicit the pass then play the pass.
  • Take A Charge (Frame 3) – Often the dribbler will continue their momentum on their path to the basket after making a pass.
  • 2v1 w/ Help (Frame 4) – Buy time until help (“The Wolf”) is in the passing lane before committing to the ball. X2 is sprinting back into the play and seeking to get to the level of the ball. The Wolf is not concerned with players behind the ball. Get to level of the ball or ahead of it to even the advantage.

“Weave Into 2v1” is an advantage/disadvantage drill that reinforces some of the teaching points of defending in the 2v1 disadvantage.


Video of Russian Women’s National Team demonstrating Weave Into 2v1:

Defending The 3v2

Many of the pointers for defending in the 3v2 are the same as those in defending in the 2v1. The defensive players are attempting to buy time so the remainder of their teammates can flow back into the play.

To begin this process, one player must stop the ball and one must protect the rim. “Setting the tandem” is vital to 3v2 defense.


To set the tandem, X1 stops ball (the sooner the better) and forces to the sideline or corner checkpoint. X2 is in LOW I position and anticipates going the first pass. Here is a helpful hint for the Low I player at the back of the tandem: most often the dribbler will pass to the same side they are being forced to dribble towards.

Do not play side-by-side! Communication is key, one player must stop ball and another must protect the rim. Good offensive players will attack a split tandem.

If the first pass goes to the wing higher than Free Throw Line Extended (FTLE) X1 stays with the ball and X2 remains in LOW I. If the pass goes in front of or to the side of top of tandem, X2 stays.

If the pass to the wing goes behind X1 (below FTLE), then X2 closes out on 2, pushing 2 to the baseline checkpoint. X1 drops quickly to LOW I help position.

Coaching Point: “Bottom out, Top down!”

The tandem must force the three offensive players to make extra passes or dribbles to buy time for help to arrive.

Other pointers:

  • Take a Charge. Often the passer will continue on their path to the basket after passing
  • Rebound. Don’t forget to rebound! Go “bottom out, top down” and secure the backside rebound
  • Counter attack! The numbers advantage would be reversed upon a rebound and counter attack

3v2v1 is a full court advantage/disadvantage drill incorporating all the tips for 2v1s and 3v2s.


Phase 1 of the 3v2v1 Drill is the 3v2 portion. 3 makes an outlet pass to either 1 or 2 (2 as shown) then fills the opposite wing lane. 2 makes the centering pass to 1 breaking into the middle lane and fills the right wing lane.  1 pushes with the dribble.

X1 stops ball, X2 has first pass responsibility. If/when X2 takes ball, X1 must drop to LOW I. “Bottom out, top down.”

Offense seeks to find the player with the big advantage and score quickly.

In Phase 2 the drill transitions to 2v1. If/when the defense gains ball possession or when a shot is made, X1 and X2 convert to offense and push the ball up the court against 2.

2 must try not to surrender a layup or shot to X1 and X2. Play continues until the defensive player gains ball possession or the offense scores.

Switching from offense to defense: the last offensive player to touch the ball becomes lone defensive player in the 2v1 on the other end. The other two offensive players must touch the halfcourt line and become defense versus the next group. Set the tandem.

VARIATION: Once the drill is learned, use two balls. Second ball starts as soon as first ball crosses halfcourt line on the way back.

Coaches should not assume players know how to defend disadvantage situations. Teach and reinforce these tips.

Also, coaches must instill an “eraser” mindset in their players. Teams must make every attempt to “erase” the bad play that resulted in the disadvantage situation and get a stop.

Good opponents will convert more advantage situations than defenses will stop. This is the nature of these situations and kudos the offense for creating them. Using these tips and drills to help neutralize more disadvantages can help your team erase the effects of bad plays and improve your defense in disadvantage situations.

A few more stops in disadvantage situations could lead to winning more possessions and hence more games.

Note: For more on these concepts, check out “Disruptive Pressure Basketball” by Ernie Woods.

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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.
December 31, 2016 – Omaha, NE U.S. – Creighton Bluejays guard Marcus Foster #0 in 1st half transition action during an NCAA men’s basketball game between #1 Villanova Wildcats and #10 Creighton Bluejays at the CenturyLink Center in Omaha, NE..Attendance: 18,831 Third-largest crowd in Creighton men’s basketball history.Villanova won 80-70.Michael Spomer/Cal Sport Media(Credit Image: © Michael Spomer/CSM via ZUMA Wire)

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