First of all, I disapprove of zone defense. Do I get it? Yeah, but I’m still not a fan. I coached a 7th grade basketball team this winter and it took me nearly half the season to reluctantly switch from a man to a zone, even though it was obvious we were physically outmatched from day 1. But, that anecdote right there explains the greatest value in a zone defense and specifically a 2-3 zone defense.
A 2-3 zone is mostly used by a team that is physically outmatched defensively and needs some way to try and stem the tide of perimeter slashers. A 2-3 zone is designed to protect the lane at all costs and force a team to shoot over the top of your perimeter guards to score. As of recently that has worked out very well for the Hoosiers as their most recent competition has not been notoriously good shooting teams. We see this in not only low shooting percentages from the opposing teams, but also a large foul differential when the game is over.
What you will see when you pay attention to
In a 2-3 you have two players at the elbows and three players down low in the post. The big man sets up in the lane and uses his wingspan to guard a large area, while your larger forwards are in charge of taking care of everything outside the lane and below the free throw line. This is where the 2-3 is at its weakest. That is a large area to guard for one man on each side of the court. The chinks in the armor of a 2-3 are on the wings extending from the free throw line, the high post and the "Verdell Spots" (pretend there is a 15ft arc around the court at the free throw line. Verdell spots are those 15 foot pull up jumpers just a few feet to the left and right of the actual free throw line.)
Good passing and patient offenses can exploit these points with good ball movement, as the defense must constantly rotate to cover everyone. Thus leaving them vulnerable to the weak side (side of the court the ball isn’t on) skip pass. Any patient offense knows to rotate the ball around the perimeter and probe the defense until the 2-3 overcommits and leaves a man standing alone on the other side of the court. Good coaches know how to exploit this in 35 seconds, better coaches know how to defensively rotate their players to outlast the offense.
Take a look at the above picture. This is a good example of what most college coaches will do to try and beat the 2-3 and force the defense to overload one side. The arrows show how the defense should rotate to combat the offense. As you see in the diagram, the offense is trying to exploit every weak spot in the zone. They have two wing players set out wide, they’ve brought a player into the high post and they have a man on the block on the ball side posting up. The man in the high post forces a decision on Zeller at the 5 spot. Does he commit high to guard the free throw line and leave the post player in a advantageous match-up position against a forward or does he protect the rim and leave the high post vulnerable? This is where rotation is key.
Zeller should always and I repeat ALWAYS stay down and guard the man posting up. As the arrows show in the diagram, Zeller will shield the pass up the lane and
As he passes back to 1, Elston slides back down to help on 4, Oladipo jumps to the pass at 1. Hulls slides back into the lane to help Oladipo in case 1 drives and
As you can see, in just that one very specific instance, there are a ton of moving parts in a 2-3 zone and every player must know his role or the defense becomes useless. There is nothing more team oriented than trying to play a zone and if one guy doesn’t know his role, the whole thing will collapse. Rotation is key and court awareness is mandatory to keep guys from sliding in behind you for easy lay-ups and alley oops. However, a team that effectively runs a zone can frustrate an offense to no extent. There is a reason that the 2-3 is called the great equalizer. It doesn’t necessarily take athletes to guard athletes and it protects your post players from dumb fouls because the guards let their man get by them.
In the end, I’ll begrudgingly admit that the 2-3 is the perfect defense for