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Coach’s Clipboard: The Baylor Bears Zone Defense


Coach’s Clipboard, Vol. 7: Behind a unique 1-1-3 zone defense, the Baylor Bears are surging towards postseason play. In this session of the Coach’s Clipboard we take a look inside the Baylor zone. 

The 19th-ranked Baylor Bears (21-7, 9-6 Big 12) defied the laws of “Hilton Magic” Wednesday by handing the Iowa State Cylcones a 79-70 loss in Ames. The Bears buried 14 three-pointers including their last seven in a row to capture one of the more impressive wins of the Big 12 season.

The Baylor offense was the story in Ames, but the Bears’ impressive march towards the postseason is due in large part to their aggressive and unique style of zone defense.

The Bears employ enormous length on the wings and fierce rebounding to stifle opposing offenses. Let’s take a look at Baylor’s 1-1-3 zone and how they use it to disrupt opponents.

Baylor is surrendering a meager 59.2 points per game good for 22nd in the nation. The advanced metrics favor Baylor even more. The Bears are 10th overall in the Kenpom rankings including a No. 24 ranking in adjusted defensive efficiency and the 1-1-3 is a big reason why.

There are some rules in place that make the zone work. First let’s look at the initial alignment and how it differs from a traditional zone.

Baylor will pick up the ball early in this zone; it is not a “pack the paint” style of zone defense. Referring to the diagram below, X1, usually Kenny Chery or Lester Medford, will often pick up the ball well before it crosses half court line.

X2 has high post coverage (if there is one) and anticipates the first pass.

X3 and X4 play the passing lanes to prevent a pass into the corner. They can and will help the top guards cover wings. Baylor has a stable of lengthy wing players like Royce O’Neale, Taurean Prince and Johnathan Motley that make the zone effective.

X5, usually the bruising Rico Gathers, plays post defense.

Often teams will use a two-guard front and X1 and X2 must trade off ball and high post coverage. They can get help from the wings (X3 & X4) if needed.

The ballside wing wants to be in the passing lane and deter the pass over his head into the corner.

The weakside wing must be below and inside the deepest man on his side of the court. He runs through the passing lane on any skip pass.

Here is a look at Baylor’s zone in action. In the clip Medford picks up the ball full court.

Then Chery and Medford communicate and cover both Texas A&M guards up top and the high post with a little help (bumping) from the wings.

The Bears force the Aggie turnover.

In these clips and diagrams we see an even more aggressive Baylor zone.

Medford and Chery once again pick up full court. Once the Aggies get into their halfcourt offense, we see the same high post coverage.

Chery and Medford trade the duties of ball and high post coverage. We also see Taurean Prince bump and cover the wings.

As Texas A&M backs out their offense, Baylor closes the space and becomes more aggressive in the passing lanes. The Aggies are forced to call a loose ball time out.

Baylor’s guards jump in and out of passing lines and rotate towards false daylight while covering the high post with deflections in mind.

Here we see Texas A&M attempt to enter the high post, but quick rotation by Allerick Freeman causes the deflection, steal and easy layup for Baylor.

In these two clips Baylor covers the high post with the trading of duties and seals off all dribble penetration. The result: a long, contested three-point attempt and a turnover.

In this clip against a very good Illinois team, Baylor has to defend a high post and a deep corner player.

If there are two players spaced on one side of the floor the wing must defend the lowest man.

Ultimately the Bears force a deep three with a hand in the shooters face late in the shot clock.

Teams often try to attack zones from the short corner (shaded area in diagram below). When the ball goes into the short corner against Baylor they trap it with X5 and the ballside wing.

Due to Baylor’s length, traps in the short corner are difficult to escape. When the trap is set the backside wing must rotate to cover.

Here are two examples of excellent short corner traps by Baylor.

Baylor hosts fellow Big 12 contender West Virginia (22-6, 10-5 Big 12) today in a pivotal game for conference tournament seeding.

Baylor will be using the zone in hopes of continuing their upward trend towards postseason play. The Bears have had success in the NCAA Tournament twice advancing to the Elite Eight under head coach Scott Drew.

Could this be the year the Bears break through into the Final Four? If so, the zone will be a big reason why.

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