Breaking Down the Play: The Effectiveness of Alabama’s 2-3 Zone

Posted by Brian Joyce on November 21st, 2011

Breaking Down the Play is a regular feature during the season to provide in-depth analysis on the Xs and Os of an SEC team. Today’s Breaking Down the Play goes in depth on Alabama’s use of the 2-3 zone.

Alabama’s defense is the key as to whether the Crimson Tide will simply make the NCAA Tournament or advance deep into it this season. Anthony Grant’s teams always pride themselves on the defensive end, and this year he has the athleticism to compete with anyone. JaMychal Green, Tony Mitchell and Trevor Releford fill the stat sheet on offense, but it’s their length and hustle on the other end that earns their team marks in the W column. For the perfect example, Alabama’s rematch with Wichita State shows how much difference a year can make. In last year’s game, the Shockers shot 50% from the field, including 46.7% from three-point land. This year was a different story. Friday night, Wichita State shot just 33.8% from the field. Alabama was extremely active on the defensive end throughout the game, but Grant’s switch to a 2-3 zone in the second half ended any chance the Shockers had at making a comeback.

Below are three defensive plays by Alabama that show the effectiveness of its 2-3 zone against Wichita State:

Play 1 (11:09 remaining in second half)

Alabama switches to a 2-3 zone, and displays excellent spacing throughout the floor. The Crimson Tide defenders are prepared to cover almost any area of the court. The first picture shows the end of the defensive set for Alabama as Wichita State has allowed the shot clock to dwindle down to nine seconds.

The Tide are spaced out in the 2-3 zone

As Wichita State’s offensive player dribbles to the top of the key, Releford steps up to help Charles Hankerson set the trap. Alabama uses a trapping zone to push the action and force the opponent into mistakes. The Wichita State point guard passes out of the trap as time is close to expiring.

Alabama defenders use a trap to force pressure

Releford slides over quickly, and Mitchell steps up to force a trap on the Shocker player with the ball. Releford’s approach toward the ball leaves the Wichita State player with few options as he can attempt to split the defenders or drive to the baseline. The offensive player pump fakes and drives past Mitchell.

Excellent rotation and another trap by the Bama zone

Alabama is again very quick to recover as Mitchell gets back in position, and freshman Nick Jacobs steps up to challenge the shot. The Alabama defenders swarm the ball and make it difficult for Wichita State to get an open look.

Tide defenders swarm the shooter to force a mistake

In anticipation of the shot, notice how Green blocks out his opponent (#22 for Wichita State), and Hankerson crashes the boards. It was a great defensive play for the Crimson Tide to force a bad shot at the end of the shot clock.

Play 2 (9:16 remaining in second half)

A couple of minutes later, Alabama’s Hankerson is slightly out of position, and the Tide have left a hole near the free throw line for Wichita State to attack. That is, of course, exactly what the Shockers look to do as they hit the offensive player streaking towards the free throw line.

The Tide leave a hole in the middle

But Alabama’s athleticism and length enable them to challenge the shot quickly.

Bama still in position for anything the Shockers choose

Green and Hankerson are prepared to defend the three point shot if Wichita State passes it out. Jacobs steps up, and with his quickness is able to defend the shot in the lane.

Nick Jacobs steps up and denies the shot

Jacobs makes the block, and Alabama has another stop through the 2-3 zone. Again, notice how Mitchell begins to box out his man in preparation of the shot going up. Alabama remains prepared to fight for rebounds if the WSU player gets the shot off cleanly.

Play 3 (6:08 remaining in second half)

Finally, Mitchell is slightly out of position leaving a huge hole in the corner for an open three point shot. The Shockers’ point guard passes the ball and heads that way to fill the gap.

A little out of position again by one of the Tide defenders, so the Shockers fill the gaps in the defense

Wichita State swings the ball into the corner. Mitchell and Jacobs are so quick that they are able to get out on the offensive player before he is able to fire up a shot. They recover quickly and the other Bama defenders fill the gaps.

Mitchell and Jacobs recover quickly

Mitchell and Jacobs set the trap in the corner leaving Wichita State with few options. Trevor Lacey jumps out to defend the three point arc as Levi Randolph steps in the lane to defend the pass inside.

Bama traps in the corner with the angle on any pass out

Wichita State has no other option but to attempt the pass towards the middle of the floor. Randolph steps in and makes the interception. While Randolph gets the credit for the steal, it is easy to see how the steal was a complete team effort, and begins with the trap by Jacobs and Mitchell.

Freshman Levi Randolph steps in to make the steal

Alabama played solid defense against Wichita State, and forced the Shockers into situations where they had few options to succeed. Bama has quickness, athleticism and the length to get back into defensive position making the opposing offense work harder to get quality shots. Making things even more difficult, Alabama uses a trapping zone to force the opposition into easy turnovers. The effectiveness displayed by the trapping 2-3 zone in Alabama’s game against Wichita State means we are likely to see Grant turn to the zone again in crucial situations throughout the season.

Brian Joyce (286 Posts)

Brian Joyce is an advanced metrics enthusiast, college hoops junkie, and writer for the SEC basketball microsite for Rush the Court.


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