Keys to Attacking a Match-up Zone: 8 Plays to Score

By Rory Hamilton

A Match-up Zone can cause problems for offenses finding ways to score. Here are 8 top sets to help beat it. 

The 2018 NCAA basketball tournament has been one for the ages, giving college basketball fans monumental upsets and amazing come-from-behind victories. It also further illustrates that teams with unique and unorthodox styles of play can be hard to prepare for in a quick 48-hour turn around. Whether it be the small-ball attacking style of UMBC,  or the daunting 2-3 Syracuse zone, being unconventional has its advantages. The same can be said for a good match-up zone. A good match-up zone wants to accomplish the following four things:

  1. Confuse the opponent
  2. Disrupt normal offensive schemes
  3. Control tempo
  4. Force offense to play unconventional

It is my goal in this post to give coaches offensive concepts and strategies to help attack match-up zones.

Offensive Concepts vs. Match-up Zone

Before implementing your offense versus a match-up zone, work backwards to think about things that give it trouble.  I believe there are several offensive concepts that work well in attacking the zone.

  1.  Transition Offense – The best zone offense is to race the ball down the court and attack the zone before it gets a chance to set up.
  2. Make the zone M2M – Make the match-up play M2M and run your normal offense. This keeps it simple for your players and coaches.
  3. Cutting – Hubie Brown used to say, “Leave an area and replace,” meaning cut into an open area and then fill the spot vacated by the cutter.
  4. Misdirection Dribbles—Drag dribbles distorts the zone and makes it easier to find gaps and open areas for cutting and flashing.
  5. Screening –  Whether it is screening the ball or screening the backside of the zone , screening is an effective way to create an advantage against the zone.
  6. Rebounding-  Crash the boards!!! We all know zones are difficult to rebound in defensively, so attacking the glass is an easy way to force your opponent to get out of it.

The following sets incorporate these actions and provide you with a comprehensive attack versus the match-up zone.



Shocker is a continuity offense that looks to constantly attack the zone with ball screens, overloads, and getting the ball inside. Put your best shooter as the baseline runner and your best post player inside to seal the middle of the zone.



Cutters is a great zone offense designed to cut into open areas of the zone and provide the zone with constant player movement. This is a great offense versus any zone, but works extremely well against a match-up.



Oregon is zone attack I saw Dana Altman and the Oregon Ducks run a few years ago with much success. Coach Altman has run a successful match-up zone for years, so who better than to know how to attack it. This offense uses cutters, misdirection, drag dribbles and overloads.



Flood is a play that uses misdirection dribbles and overloads to create confusion in the match-up. You can run this as a play or an entry to any zone offense.


Flood “C”  

I am a big believer in having counters to most of your common offensive actions. Flood “C” is the counter to Flood and looks to get a 3pt shot in the corner. The action looks the same and can take advantage of the over-reactive defense.



Mercer is a great play I got from Bob Hoffman, the head coach at Mercer College. This set is designed to create a natural overload by screening the top of the zone and bringing a shooter behind the ball screen to the corner.



Smash is one of my favorite zone plays, as it’s designed to get the ball inside. Too many teams can become one-dimensional against a zone, relying on outside shooting. Here the 4 screens the middle defender, allowing 5 to cut into an open block area for a catch.


Smash Down

Smash Down is the counter to Smash, and will attack the middle to soften up the zone as well to open up outside shooting. Here the 5 screens the middle defender, allowing 4 to flash middle for a catch and finish, or kick out once the zone collapses


These are just a few of the plays I’ve run or seen run versus match-up zones over the last few years. I hope you can take something back to your program that helps your team be prepared versus match-up zones. If you have any plays or other ideas you would like to share, my email address is Happy Hoopin!!

Follow Coach Hamilton on Twitter and view all of his submitted sets on the FMS PlayBank.

Related Post: NCAA Tournament – XsOs Behind the Upsets

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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.
March 25, 2018 – Omaha, NE U.S. – Kansas Jayhawks guard Devonte’ Graham #4 in action during the Elite 8, Midwest Regional, NCAA men’s basketball game between #2 Duke Blue Devils and #1 Kansas Jayhawks at the CenturyLink Center in Omaha, NE..Attendance:17579.Kansas Won 85-81 OT.Jimmy Rash/Cal Sport Media(Credit Image: © Jimmy Rash/CSM via ZUMA Wire)

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