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Basketball Zone Formation

What is a zone formation in basketball? What is the 2-3 zone? When should a team play zone? Get ready to learn about zone formations basketball.


A basketball formation describes how players move and position themselves on the court in relation to players on the opposing team. There are three main formations that all others branch out from:

  1. Man To Man Defense
  2. Zone Defense
  3. Press Defense

In this tutorial, we will learn about a basics of zone formations.

Zone Formations

A zone formation in basketball is different from a man to man formation. Instead of having each player be assigned another player on the opposing team, a zone formation assigns each player to a zone or area on the court.

Basketball Zone Formation

PRO TIP: Either team can utilize a zone formation while they are on offense or on defense. As a fan you may hear about zone defense and zone offense.


When playing a zone formation you can see players shifting on the floor. They move together, always maintaining their zones, but shifting their positions based on where the ball goes on the court.

Pros of Playing Zone Formations

The following are advantages of a zone formation:

Cons of Playing Zone Formations

The following are disadvantages of a zone formation:

  • harder to get rebounds since boxing out is easier in a man-to-man formation
  • requires more communication and coordination between players
  • the offense can force player match-ups

Types of Zone Formations In Basketball

There are lots of ways to create a zone formation in basketball. As a coach, player, or fan, you should know about the following formations:

  1. 2-3 Zone
  2. 3-2 Zone
  3. 1-3-1 Zone

X-Y-Z Zone Formation

An X-Y-Z zone formation is a generic phrase to describe where players should position themselves in a zone formation. The X, Y, and Z denote how many defensive players are in each area of the court starting at the top of the key.

Basketball Top Of The Key

2-3 Zone Formation

A 2-3 zone is a classic zone used by many college basketball teams. In a 2-3 zone, two defensive players are positioned near the elbows. Three defensive players are behind them, one in the paint, and one on each side of the paint. 2-3 zones are so effective, because they keep the dribbler out of the lane and at the critical shooting locations like the the high post and low post. A good 2-3 zone will force the offense to shoot three-pointers around the perimeter when the shot clock expires.

Basketball 2-3 Zone Formation

PRO TIP: Syracuse University's head coach Jim Boeheim uses a classic 2-3 zone. It is one of the most effective defenses in college basketball.

3-2 Zone Formation

A 3-2 zone is like a 2-3 zone but reversed with three defensive players on the three-point line and two defensive players near the paint. The 3-2 zone is less effective than a 2-3 zone at the corners and once the dribbler breaks through a gap into the lane. However, a good 3-2 zone will keep the dribbler outside of the three-point arc.

Basketball 3-2 Zone Formation

1-3-1 Zone Formation

A 1-3-1 zone formation consists of three defensive players on the three-point line, one in the paint, and one near the midcourt line. 1-3-1 zone formations are great for setting traps but fail when the dribbler breaks through the the paint.

Basketball 1-3-1 Zone Formation

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