Hoops 101

Fran Fraschilla

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Tuesday, January 7
Controlling tempo with controlled pressure

By Fran Fraschilla
Special to ESPN.com

If you dissect all presses, whether based on man-to-man or zone principles, you will see that once the ball is trapped, the defenders are in a 2-2-1 alignment. The final product of any pressure results in two trappers, two interceptors, and a safety to protect the basket.

Interested in the X's and O's of college basketball, but don't understand the terminology? Read ESPN's Fran Fraschilla's introduction to Hoops 101 on ESPN.com for a crash course in the basics of basketball.

In preparation for tonight's game between No. 3 Connecticut and No. 9 Oklahoma (ESPN2, 8 ET), let's talk about the 2-2-1, three-quarter court press, its principles, and terminology. The Huskies, during the Jim Calhoun era, have used this press quite a bit with great success. It can be referred to as a, "safe press", with three defenders behind the trap and less ground to cover to get back to the half-court defense. Also, it promotes the use of the sideline and the 10-second line in the defense, as well.

(Note: we will use numbers in diagramming the defenders and "o"'s to diagram the offensive players.)

In the old North Carolina "run-and-jump" press, it was a 2-2-1 press disguised as man-to man (Diagram 1). As the ball comes up the court, the nearest defender (4) would leave his man and "jump trap" the ball. On the trap, the other defenders, (2 and 5) would rotate as the two interceptors played the three offensive players, who were the near outlets for the ball. By promoting a strong, active trap, it encouraged the soft, lazy or "helium" pass that had a very good chance to be intercepted. 3 is the safety man, who protects the basket.

More recently, the Maryland "55" press is a 1-2-1-1 full court press, where the Terps try to trap the first pass in the corner with 4 and 2, as 1 and 3 become the interceptors and the 5 is the safety man (Diagram 2). It is usually a "one and done" trap back to their half-court defense. The dangerous part of this press is the pass over the top because, as you can see, three defenders are behind the ball in transition. (Diagram 3)

Diagram 1
Diagram 2

Diagram 3

But, the basic premise of the 2-2-1 remains the same: Keep the ball out of the middle of the floor. We want the offense to advance the ball down the sideline.

And remember the 2-2-1 principles:
1. Sharp Angles
2. Lane the Passes
3. Surround the Middle
4. Jump like Rotations
5. Shoot the Gaps

As for UConn's initial alignment of the 2-2-1 press, the Huskies put their two best "on the ball", defenders 1 and 2, in the front line where they can pressure the ball and force it up the sideline. UConn guard Taliek Brown and Ben Gordon do an excellent job of keeping that pressure on the offense.

The Huskies 4 and 5 are on the second line, where they must "contain" the dribble on the sideline and trap, or if the ball goes away from them, rotate to cover the basket as the safety. Finally, 3 is usually the best "interceptor," because he must play sideline to sideline. Calhoun has the luxury of playing Emeka Okafor, his center, in that spot. He is not only the country's best shot-blocker, but is athletic enough to cover ground as the "interceptor".

Now, this 2-2-1 does not contest the first pass to either side of the court (Diagram 4). The inbounder has passed and stepped in, and when that initial pass comes in to his side, 1 pressures the ball as 2 finds the middle man or "flash man". Now, 2 must stay a step removed from middle man's right shoulder because we want create the illusion that he is open. Notice how 1 and 2 have created a "sharp angle."

It's the job of 4 to "lane the pass," or in other words, play in the passing lane on the sideline. He must be ready to trap the dribbler advancing up the side, or returning to the initial look if the ball is passed back to the inbounder. At the same time, 5 moves to the middle of the court, behind the left shoulder of the middle man. He is on a "sharp angle" with 4 and, also, must be ready to play the long diagonal pass over his head. (Diagram 5)

Diagram 4
Diagram 5

When the ball is reversed back to the inbounder, look for UConn to go back to the 2-2-1 "look" it had before the ball was inbounded and "surround the middle." (Diagram 6). Keep in mind that, on this pass, the ball is not being advanced, and the offense is using up some of its 10-second count. Teams like UConn usually do not run 2 up to the ball because we would be giving the offense a middle of the floor "look".

The goal now it get the offense to reverse the ball, and once it does, 2 plays the ball as 1 sinks on a "sharp angle" to the middle. It's up to 5 to "lane" any sideline pass (to encourage a soft, floating or "helium" pass over his head), allowing 4 to form his "sharp angle" with 5. Remember, 3 always moves to ball side so that, if a pass is thrown over the second line defender, he can "shoot the gap" to steal the pass. (Diagram 7)

Diagram 6
Diagram 7

If the offense chooses to dribble up the sidelines, it's time for the rotations and trap sequences to begin. In this example, 5 retreats and only when he's sure the dribbler is coming, he "steps up" to double team. (Diagram 8). With the help of 2, a trap is formed as 1 moves to the first person he can find in the middle of the court, looking for a deflection or a "tip from behind" if the middle man catches and puts the ball on the floor. By stepping 3 up to steal the sideline pass, we are rotating a player of size back to defend the goal as the safety. (Diagram 9)

Diagram 8
Diagram 9

Now, if 3 can't steal the ball, he must force the ballhandler to make a sideline dribble move. The dribbler will be met by 4, where we can trap again with 3. This time, 1 rotates back to "zone the goal" as the safety, as 2 and 5 sprint out of the traps back to the lane. (Diagram 10) The importance of "sprinting out of the trap" can not be overemphasized. Often times, in rotating hard back to the lane, they will steal the "limited vision" pass that offensive player throws. (Diagram 11)

Diagram 10
Diagram 11

As for the timing of these traps in the 2-2-1 press, there is a slight difference in how we play the "early" or "late" skip passes (or a cross-court pass). A skip pass that originates in the back court, or "early skip", can be tracked down by both of our opposite defenders, 1 and 4. (Diagram 12) The players not involved in the double team have the same responsibilities, as 3 moves to the ball side of the court, 5 replaces 3 and "zones the goal", and 2 moves to the middle of the floor, replacing 5. In this case, 2 is looking to steal the limited vision pass. (Diagram 13)

Diagram 12
Diagram 13

Finally, on any "late skip pass" thrown from the front court, 1 chases down the ball and everyone else retreats to the lane to build the half-court defense. (Diagram 14)

Diagram 14

Remember, there are many ways to make the 2-2-1 press "multiple". UConn gives it different looks by moving its personnel to the spots where the Huskies can be most effective. (see: Okafor). Look for the Huskies to "face guard" the Sooners at times, making the 2-2-1 a true full-court press, then back off and make it a half-court press by retreating until the ball gets to the 10-second line.

In other words, the 2-2-1 can speed teams up, and at the same time, slow them down. If used correctly, this press makesteams do what they don't want to do, and that is play at your pace, not theirs.

Q & A with Fran Fraschilla

Send in your Hoops 101 questions. Fran Fraschilla will answer a few of them next week.

Fran Fraschilla spent 23 years on the sidelines as a college basketball coach before joining ESPN this season as an broadcast analyst. He guided both Manhattan (1993, 1995) and St. John's (1998) to the NCAA Tournament in his nine seasons as a Division I head coach, leaving New Mexico following the end of the 2001-02 season.

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