The Syracuse 2-3 Zone

Some people think that the 2-3 zone defense is always a passive one. Traditional thinking is that you sit back in the 2-3, packing the lane and forcing the offense to shoot over top. Syracuse's Jim Boeheim uses it to trap and create turnovers. Our 2-3 zone that we use is very similar.

Again, conventional thinking is to use the 2-3 zone if you are less athletic than the opposition. Syracuse uses it as their base by taking advantage of their athleticism to trap in the corners and even up top. Our team also uses the 2-3 zone as our base with extensive trapping. We switch back to man-to-man when we have some of our reserve players who are not quite quick enough to run the traps.


Personnel-wise, as I mentioned before, you must have athletic players that can anticipate passes in the lane and are aggressive trappers. Flat-footed or slow moving players will not work well in this defense. The year that Syracuse won the National Championship in 2003, they had Carmelo Anthony.

The setup is very 2-3 vanilla. When the offense brings the ball up the floor, you want to wait for them to enter the ball into the wing (probably the right side). Once they do that, either X1 or X2 depending on the side will force sideline to the trapping zone.

Trap the corner:

Once they pass the free-throw line extended, you want to aggressively trap with X1 and X4. X2 will come up and take away the pass up the top. X5 will front his man low side with X3 able to help middle. X3 is anticipating a long lob pass to X3 and denying the pass to P4 if P4 goes to the high post.

Now, if the offense is able to get the ball into P5 in the short corner. You want X4 and X1 to trap P5 there with X2 cutting off the pass up top only allowing the pass back to the ball-side corner where you will trap again.

Trap up top:

What you'll see alot of as well is the trap once the dribbler brings the ball across half. This is a surprise trap so you want X1 and X2 to wait patiently until the dribbler crosses half then go.

Once the trap is set, it's vital that X3 and X4 are already moving to the sideline to intercept the easiest passes to the wings. X5 needs to anticipate the long pass underneath to either post on the left or right.

You don't run this trap all the time, but it should be called on occasion from the sideline. 80% of the steals will come from a bad pass to P3 or P4 on the sideline which should be an easy 2 points the other way.


As you can see, the 2-3 zone does not have to be a passive defense. You can use it to create a ton of pressure and force turnovers. We like it a lot because contrary to our full-court press or even our half-court press, we can shorten the area where we have to pressure, thus we can use it all game without wearing out our top players.

It's a confusing defense to run as opposing teams normally think that you're running a vanilla 2-3. But with all the trapping, we create all kinds of chaos.

Like any defense though, there are holes that can be exploited. If teams adjust, we counter-adjust with a different defense. We had tremendous success with this defense last year, finishing 3rd overall in-state. We hope it brings more success this coming season.

If you want to learn the complete Syracuse 2-3 zone defense, Jim Boeheim's DVD on the 2-3 matchup zone is a must see. Coaches around the country have commented on coach Boeheim's 2-3 zone that has created havoc for many an offense. I have some Syracuse notes so be sure to check out the X's and O's Basketball forum to discuss or request them.