How Indiana attacks a zone

Tom Crean spent his Saturday morning speaking to about 200 high school basketball coaches at Broad Ripple High School in Indianapolis, as part of Basil Mawbey’s coaches’ clinic.

I attended the event, expecting to see Crean give his “Indiana basketball is on the rise” speech. That’s what the pamphlet that arrived in the H-T’s mailbox said Crean would talk about.

Instead, the second-year coach spent 50 minutes (he was scheduled for 45, but could not be contained) diagramming how Indiana will attack zone defenses this season.

I took notes. Here they are.


In this set, the 4 is the trailer, having in-bounded the ball. The 1 starts out with it, and the goal is to create a quick basket by passing to the 2-guard. The point will then take a hard cut towards the basket, hoping to run through the defense and get a pass from the 2-guard for the easy layup.


OK, so the 1 was not open. He’ll continue out to the win, and instead the three will work across the paint and up to the high perimeter. He takes the pass from the 2-guard. Here, if he is open, he can take a 3-pointer.


Still, no open shot. The offense continues working though, as the 4 comes down to set a screen for the 1. As the 1 comes through the screen, the 3 man will find him with the ball. Again, the 1 has the option of shooting over the zone.


That look was not open. So the 2 guard comes around to the other wing, as the 1 gives the ball back to the 3. The 1 then comes down and cuts to the basket through a screen set by the 5. The 3 can find the 1 for the open shot near the basket or give it to the 5 (if both defenders fall with the 1).


Still, nothing going. So the 1 goes out to the wing, and the 3 finds the 4 on the high perimeter. The 3 then can cut to the basket, where the 4 can find him for the layup. You’ll notice there is a lot of cutting towards the basket. There’s a reason for that, which we’ll get to at the end.


The 4 gives the ball to the 2, then comes down on another screen, this one set by the 5. The goal is for both defenders to stay with the 5, or at least be a step behind, and the 2 can feed the 4 for an easy layup at the basket.


Lots of movement here. The 5 comes over and sets a screen for the 2, as the 4 switches which side of the basket he is stationed at. The 3 can also cut towards the basket, overloading the paint and giving the 2 an open look at the top, or the ability to find the 1 in the corner.

That’s it. At this point, if you’re still not finding an open basket, you’re probably running out of time on the shot clock.

But the goal is to get a good look early, using the speed of Indiana’s players to attack the 4 and 5 men for opposing teams. That’s why there are so many cuts to the basket — Crean wants to catch those players out of position and not give them a chance to recover.

The 1, in this system, needs to be athletic, tough and able to drive, Crean said. That would seem to benefit Jeremiah Rivers. Jordan Hulls can do these things, though I could see him stopping his drive for a mid-range jumper (actually, the stop and shoot is his specialty) in this offense.

The 4, obviously, needs to be athletic enough to handle the ball, set screens and work off the ball. Another example of why Crean seems to comfortable with using players like Derek Elston in the 4 spot.

Later this week, I’ll have another post on how Crean uses his motion offense to attack the zone.


  1. Well, it’s no set play giving the ball to Bracey Wright and watching him dribble the air out of the ball then jacking up something as the shot clock expires like Mike Davis drew it up but I’ll give it a chance.

  2. Thanks very much for that. With this info it will be cool to be able to anticipate player and ball movement in games. Nice.

  3. And thank good handles we won’t have to go through the pain of watching Kyrie Irving doing his best Bracey Wright imitation…

  4. what a lot of wasted movement. bob knights method was better. move the ball, not the perimeter players against zone. attack the gaps. post players are the movers. more effective and easier to learn.

  5. This is much easier to understand when you’re watching a game. But it seems to be based on wearing defenders out running them around the court and taking advantage of quickness mismatches. But of course that’s a pretty broad description of basketball. Looking forward to seeing it in action.

  6. Selective memory with Bob’s system.

    I don’t know how many times I screamed at the TV while Guyton just stood there dribbling the crap out of the ball while everyone else stood and watched him.

  7. Ah yes…the old lack-of-motion offense. That old business was fantastic in the 70s and 80s…definitely lost its luster as the 90s wore on, and Mike Davis put the nail in that coffin with the “get the ball to bracey” scheme.

    …unfortunately, I can’t make much sense out of something like this on paper…I need some basketball players making the moves in order to fully understand it.

  8. look basketbakk novices, it’s a zone defense. no defender is chasing you around. the only person you’re wearing out is yourself. motion, screens, cutting against man. although there are a few quick-hitter zone plays you can run off of backscreens against zone.

  9. Once on a faculty and staff access day I watched Bob teach 3 on a side against the zone that the Russian team was going to use. Maybe coachv could explain that to us.

    As a side note he lambasted Landon Turner pretty good that day.

  10. HHis superior knowledge of basketball is why coachv is coaching one of the top basketball programs in the country

  11. I miss the Mike Davis “Orlando One” offense. I cannot do the story justice at the moment but it involves running Orlando One at the end of the IU v. Illinois game on February 3, 2004. We lost that game 51-49 and Bracey chucked one from the cheap seats as time was running out. Classic.

    For those missing the old motion offense, maybe this will get your blood pumping

  12. Talk about a misnomer. On the upside, in the old motion offense you could pretty much replace your 4 and 5 with folding chairs and still run it.

  13. Coachv, you’re right, I didn’t really even notice the headline. I just wanted some Xs and Os. Anything to take my mind off the football team. Against zone, this would seem to be designed to get mid-range shots between levels of the zone, but of course I’m not a coach.

  14. I don’t think I’ve seen a more spectacular dunk/vertical leap since the days of…?????


    After leading North Carolina State University to an undefeated season (27-0) in 1973, he led them to an NCAA Men’s Division I Basketball Championship in 1974, including vanquishing the reigning national champions, the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). His nickname was “Skywalker” because of his incredible purported 48-inch vertical leap. The alley-oop pass, now a staple of today’s high-flying, above-the-rim game was “invented” by ******** ? and his NC State teammate Monte Towe, and first used as an integral part of the offense by NC State coach Norm Sloan to take advantage of ********’*? leaping ability.

    Trivia Question: Who is “Skywalker”?


  15. I watched the above clip again, and could not believe my eyes…

    Trivia Question B: At the 0:26 mark of the above clip, who is wearing number 42 on the Chicago Bulls?

    Clue: The Chicago Bulls chose ????? with the second overall pick in the 1976 NBA Draft.


  16. hey chet. i coached 20 years of high school hoops. how about you? and gfdave, i could teach you how to attack a zone but how much time do you have? do you want to learn how to attack a 2-3, 1-2-2, or 1-3-1?

  17. coachv, be careful not to give to much of a “resume” on here or it will make someone really mad! Sorry GFD, had to do it, all in fun!

  18. Nice diagrams, but you still have to make the shots. He went on for 50min and no mention of crashing the weakside glass, 15-20% of your points and rebounds can come against a zone.

  19. coachv, you’re the one comparing yourself to CTC by ridiculing his offense. I’ll take Crean’s college experience over your hs resume. He does this 16 hours a day, seven days a week. BTW 52 combined seasons over 3 different sports. All three of my own kids are D1 athletes. But I’d never presume to ridicule a successful college coach’s schemes based on my hs experiences. That would be silly. I’m certain he knows far more than I do. You may, also, but I know he does.

  20. All so extremely tedious…takes ability and the chess match elements of basketball completely out of the equation…With so many guards on our team, aren’t we going to be running like gazelles every time we have possession? I sure as hell hope so…I don’t think our forwards have instinctive movement and ability to move with enough fluidity to pop-out for quick 10 to 15 ft. baseline jumpers..etc. Maybe I’ll be pleasantly surprised..Hasn’t Crean spoken of his desire to run the wheels off the opponent?..Hopefully the zone defenses rarely get a chance to set up against our revolving door of guards and speed up and down the court..Kick it out and go! Kick it out and go! Some of our great shooters don’t have a lot of size…Hulls, Dumes, Roth…Won’t they be seeing a lot of man-to-man defenses that will attempt to seize on that advantage? Wouldn’t we be more naturally effective against zones?

    That’s the criticism that was beginning to slowly filter into Marquette on Tom Crean’s style….mechanical…predictable….too methodical…. over-analytical. And then in critical aspect of games he calls an awkward timeout to completely destroy the game flow, or he barks out a play instead of just sitting down; stealing those unique moments a gifted player can assess a weakness and create a scoring opportunity….Maybe that’s why he fell back on his dependable clipboard when talking to the Broad Ripple kids…They probably would have rather listened to a church sermon…Crean needs to find his sense of humor bone…crack some jokes…lighten up…add some color-commentary to the blackboard jungle…It’s basketball, not paint by number…Many a great draftsman has stood perplexed at blank canvas on painter’s easel.

    What’s next? a two hour lecture on Fifty Ways To Run A Fast Break…Oops…Would that be a break led by Daniel Moore, or E’Twaun Donte Moore?

  21. Exclusive camera phone…

    The Fight of the Century:

    Tom “We had 19 F’s!!” Crean vs. Eli “Throwin’ the Clay and Smokin’ the Pot” Holman.

    Watch now.

  22. I get it! Crean needed to protect IU virtues by knifing Holman for throwing the plant. A brilliant parallel Daddio! The Coen brothers got nothing on you PPS!

  23. coachv,

    Crean only coached 5 years of high school basketball, so I guess you’ve got him beat.

    Then again, He has coached at the collegiate level since 1989, so I think he may have an idea on how to attack zone defenses successfully.

    I’m just saying…

  24. DFDave-

    It was intended to be lame with breathing room…Now you’ve filled the anal void.

    Woooud ya like aye Meeneesota jyoke? Oohh Yaah..Yaah? Oohh..Yah…Yaah? Oooh K.

    Why do the Jets no longer have a quarterback?


  25. don’t hate people. it’s not easy always being the smartest one in the room. i just happen to be one of the finest basketball coaches in the country.

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