Skip to content

College basketball’s use of zone defenses up six percent from last season

Dec 4, 2013, 6:02 PM EDT

boeheim AP

With the changes in the way that contact is being called, college basketball has seen an increase in the number of fouls called and the number of free throws attempted in 2013-14. This has been one reason why scoring’s increased after being historically low last season; added opportunities to score by way of an “unchallenged” shot will have this kind of effect.

But have the changes also led to an increase in the use of zone defenses? That looks to be the case.

In a story written by Ben Cohen of the Wall Street Journal, a look at Synergy Sports Technology data has revealed that teams have played some kind of zone defense on 21.6% of possessions this season. According to the numbers that’s an increase of six percentage points from last season. And while a coach like Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim has used the zone for years and experienced a great deal of success, some diehard “man-to-man” proponents have even dabbled with a different defensive look in 2013-14.

The argument for the increased use of zone defense is that teams won’t foul as much, with this becoming more of a concern due to the increased number of foul calls. But according to Boeheim, the assumption that playing zone = your team won’t commit fouls is a misguided one.

Boeheim’s zone is back in demand partly because of the new emphasis in college basketball on curtailing defensive contact, which makes it more difficult to defend on the perimeter without racking up fouls. Boeheim, though, rejects the idea that Syracuse benefits by being fluent in zone already.

“It’s just not true,” he said. “Playing zone doesn’t mean you don’t foul. That’s ridiculous. People who say that don’t understand zone defense.”

The zone defenses being played by most college basketball teams aren’t your standard, run-of-the-mill recreational league zones, in which (generally speaking) weekend warriors stand in an area with the primary goal being to conserve energy in order to hoist shots on the other end. A lot of these defenses are highly active, and some even mix in some man-to-man principles (matchup zones) as well. And then there are your “junk” defenses, like the box-and-1 and triangle-and-2, that some coaches (UTEP’s Tim Floyd immediately comes to mind) have put to good use.

More teams employing zone looks was one assumption made when the new legislation was announced during the summer, and based on the numbers that has been the case. But just as there are questions regarding how strict officials will be when conference play begins, it also remains to be seen if teams continue to play more zone once faced with more “familiar” opponents.

Featured video

Derrick Gordon says 'Why not me?'