Breaking Down Villanova’s Enhanced 1-2-2 Zone Press

Posted by Justin Kundrat on April 1st, 2016

Jay Wright’s teams have long employed a 1-2-2, three-quarter-court press as a variant to its standard halfcourt man-to-man defense. This has been partly used as a way to force turnovers, but it also helps the Villanova defense by burning valuable time off the shot clock. Its efficacy largely hinges on its personnel. Villanova has always had talented backcourts with proven abilities to score, but the necessary buy-in on the defensive end has only occurred in recent years. As a result, the zone press has experienced a significant uptick in usage — a testament to both Jay Wright‘s acknowledgement of its success and increased practice time in mastering its implementation. But the biggest development in this defensive scheme hasn’t been just added practice time — rather, the arrival of freshman Mikal Bridges has drastically improved the defensive scheme. Bridges gives Villanova a deceptively long, athletic wing with above-average foot speed who can wreak havoc within this extended defense.

The set-up of the 1-2-2 is as follows. The most important position is the player circled in red at the top, whose job it is to force the opposing ball-handler to one side of the floor.

Some of the more aggressive variations of the 1-2-2 press will attempt to trap the ball-handler in his own backcourt. While that strategy may force more turnovers, the downside is that it leaves the press exposed on the other end of the floor — especially true if the opponent has multiple ball-handlers. Wright’s adjustment is that Villanova presses in a more passive manner. The first objective is to bait the dribbler into throwing a pass, whereby players 1 -3 will aggressively pursue anything thrown over the top.


Bridges generally harasses the ball-handler from the top, but the team’s bigger focus is to initiate a trap as soon as he crosses the half-court line. Once this occurs, the sideline and half-court line serve as additional “defenders,” sometimes forcing a rushed decision from the ball-handler on what to do next.


In the below clip, the dribbler chooses to split the corner trap before ultimately turning it over. Pay attention to how quickly Bridges (#25) closes out at the end of the play. Any ball reversal forces an immediate trap on the other side of the floor, where player 1 (usually Bridges) will sprint to the other side and initiate the same trap, this time with player 3.


Last season, 6’5 Josh Hart would often play the role of player 1. While he had a good nose for the ball, his 6’7″ wingspan made it easier for ball-handlers to successfully navigate traps. Now, with Bridges and his 7’0″ wingspan in place, the effect is substantial. Here is an example of the Wildcats’ defense forcing risky passes. While the end result isn’t a turnover, Kansas fails to initiate its offense until there are 20 seconds remaining on the shot clock. Ten seconds were burned simply getting the ball upcourt.


By and large, Villanova’s 1-2-2 press has been hugely effective in this NCAA Tournament, forcing an average turnover rate of 21 percent through four games. Looking forward to Saturday evening’s game against Oklahoma, the Sooners have sometimes struggled when facing pressure, so expect Wright to turn to it as a means of slowing down the explosive Sooners’ offense.

Justin Kundrat (142 Posts)

Villanova grad, patiently waiting another 10 years for season tickets. Follow Justin on twitter @JustinKundrat or email him at

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2 responses to “Breaking Down Villanova’s Enhanced 1-2-2 Zone Press”

  1. […] with turnovers, and lately it’s been far more aggressive (that press is expertly broken down here by @JustinKundrat). The key defensively for Villanova tonight will be Mikal Bridges (when […]

  2. […] Found at Rush the Court: […]

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