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Wake Forest vs Virginia Tech: Looking at the Matchup Zone

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A quick look at the zone the Deacs used to pick up a win over VT to closeout the regular season

NCAA Basketball: Wake Forest at Virginia Tech Michael Shroyer-USA TODAY Sports

In Wake Forest’s 89-84 win over Virginia Tech on Saturday, the Deacs went to a zone defense in the second half that seemed to confuse a lot of people (including me). Was Wake Forest starting in zone and then switching to man? After doing some research and rewatching the 2nd half, it is my opinion that the Deacs were playing a basic 2-3 matchup zone for most of the second half. First I’ll give some basics of the matchup zone, and then I’ll explain the play that is probably causing most of the confusion.

The first thing to understand about the 2-3 matchup zone is that it is a 2-3 in name only. While the defense may set up in the basic 2-3 formation, as soon as the offense gets into their set, the defensive formations shifts to match that of the offense. This takes away many of the sets that easily beat a traditional 2-3 zone, such as the 3 out 2 in offense or overloading 1 side of the zone with 4 offensive players. So when the offense puts 3 guys on the perimeter, rather than guard them with 2, the defense shifts one of the lower players up and the defense looks like a 3-2, as you can see below.

The next thing to understand about the matchup zone is that it uses a lot of man to man principles. A player defends the man in his zone man to man until he can pass him off to another defender.

So when Bibbs flashes to the high post, another common place coaches like to get the ball against a traditional 2-3 zone, Woods has to continue to play him man to man because there is no one to pass him off to, as you can see above. Wilbekin and Childress are already defending guys in their respective zones, so Woods can’t pass him off to either player. Again, our “2-3 zone” now matches the offensive formation. On the topic of passing players off to another defender, communication is absolutely paramount to this defense working. If 1 guy assumes someone is picking up his man and they don’t, the whole defense breaks down.

You can see on this play there is a miscommunication as Childress tries to tell McClinton to cover the cutting Robinson (as he is no doubt also explaining after the play) and Virginia Tech ends up with a wide open 3. I think it is this play that is confusing people as to what defense this is, as Woods starts on the far side and then follows the cutting Bibbs to the other side of the court. One of the reasons this is probably confusing people is the miscommunication and the fact the it is a busted coverage, for lack of a better term. Thankfully, when VT ran this same play again, we did a much better job defending it.

Most coaches like to keep their center underneath and their wings player out on the perimeter in this defense. So when a guy on the weak side cuts to the basket and then moves to the strong side, rather than pass him off to the center, the defender just follows the cutter. Following the cutter also keeps the defense from being able to overload 1 side of the zone. So when Bibbs cuts to the basket, McClinton follows him and Childress slides down to cover the backside. At the end of the play, as LeDay moves to the perimeter, there is no one for Collins to pass him off to, so he has to follow him out. Now this looks a little confusing because the play VT is running has a lot going on, so I made a quick video explaining it if you are still confused.

Hopefully that clears up some of the confusion about our defense in the second half. If you want to read more about the matchup zone, I found some really good information here and here.