The 1-3-1 Zone Defense is quite unique in nature. Overall, it’s a spread out defense that aims at cutting down the floor and restricting ball movement between teammates. It’s all about creating disruption, anxiety, steals, and simply stopping an opponent in its tracks.
It’s also an intriguing defense to implement during the course of a game to change the flow. For instance, former University of Georgia coach Dennis Felton has called upon it time and again to change a game entirely by creating a sense of desperation out of opponents and leading to steals, fast break baskets and an overall change in momentum.
The defense uses some unique slides and takes a serious commitment in order to implement it and teach it so that it’s effective. It can be particularly successful at the high school level, especially with less experienced players on the court that might get overwhelmed by the defense.
There are four positions within the 1-3-1 Defense: top, wings, center and warrior.
With the Top player, his first responsibility is to get the ball out of the middle of the floor and keep it out. We never want the offense to play in the middle of the floor as there are too many holes. Once the ball is on one side, the top guy should make it as difficult as possible for it to get to the other side of the court.
Also, he must constantly keep up with who is behind him and play with wide hands, feet, and legs. This player is hoping for a slow lob or bounce pass that he can deflect or steal. All the while, he must also check over his shoulder so he can stay in between the two offensive players up top. If that opposing guard sneaks away, the top must adjust his positioning. And when the ball is passed down to the baseline, the top guy’s responsibility is to protect the elbow.
As for the Center, his job is to always stay between the ball and the rim and to keep the ball out of the middle guy’s hands. It’s key that this player shades his opponent with his wingspan to discourage inside passes being made. And when the ball is thrown down to the baseline, he must sprint to the bottom and get his bottom arm across the low post. When the ball is driven to the middle, the center must step up and stop the funnel.
There are two wings within this defense. When the ball is up top, it’s the job of the ball-side wing man to stay on a passing line between the ball and the baseline player. This will encourage a slow bouncer or looping lob pass. Meanwhile, it’s the job of the weakside wing to sprint to the weak side of the rim to prevent any passes there. He must make sure that the opposite guy can’t catch any lobs or passes. This is a physical task, and he will likely find himself jockeying with opponents down low and ultimately must block out that player.
As for the warrior, this player needs to be your toughest, most physical and smartest player on the court. Often, this player is even a point guard. It’s key that he’s tough, smart, quick and fast. His job when the ball is out front is to protect the ball-side low post. When the ball makes it to the corner, he must close out the baseline side and should never give up the baseline drive. He must force the ball to the middle where he has teammates, traffic and the opportunity for steals.