The 1-2-2 Three-Quarter Court Zone

I spoke with Lowell boys basketball coach Bobby Michalczyk recently. Coach Michalcyzk’s club is coming off of an incredible 23-1 season. To be that good, many reasons are in play. I asked Coach Michalczyk about the 1-2-2 three-quarter court zone they employ.

Familiarity for Players

In his first season at Lowell Coach Michalczyk began using this defense. He has kept it in every season since because players from one year to the next easily remember the principles. For new players, it is a defense that is pretty easy to pick up.

Five Basic Rules and Principles

  1. Take away the middle. If the ball is on the sideline, the weak-side middle player must take away the offensive player in the middle. If the ball gets to the middle, Lowell is then vulnerable to passes up court in any direction which is a challenge for the two back defenders. On reversals, every player moves as the ball moves. They do not need to wait for a teammate to tag them out of the middle.
  2. Be aggressive in spots. The obvious trap locations in a 1-2-2 three-quarter court zone are the corner or just over half-court. Coach Michalczyk asks players to be aggressive and decisive if the opportunity to trap presents itself.
  3. No splits. If they get a trap, the two trapping players cannot allow a split. Similar to giving up the middle, giving up a split is going to result in negative outcomes.
  4. The top of the zone needs endurance. Coach Michalczyk suggested that this type of defense does not force players to exert too much energy with the exception of the top defender. This defender needs to have a motor.
  5. Beware of sideline. Lowell will encourage the offense to get to the sideline. It’s a tough ask to tell players no middle and no sideline. What they need to avoid is getting beat sideline and never catching up. Catching up is partially an athletic skill but also an anticipatory skill. They need to know when the offense is about to accelerate and not get stuck in mud retreating back.

Low Risk, High Reward

I got the sense in speaking with Coach Michalczyk that he likes this defense because it is risk-averse. It reminded me of Matt Willis’ stance on the 2-2-1 zone. The best-case scenario is getting the other team to throw the ball out of bounds or getting a deflection to lead to a liveball turnover. The worst-case scenario if they do not get split on a trap or beat middle is that the other team burns through the shot clock breaking it.

Coach Michalczyk also told me that they will sometimes feature a run and jump defense in combination with the full-court zone. The run and jump is a nice change-up because it is more predicated on the offense reacting to where they need to be. The zone essentially forces the offense to take up a certain space on the floor. Forcing the brain of all five players to rewire their roles can be a challenge from play to play.

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