What a great college basketball day. Watched a bunch of games starting with Duke against Xavier. Good if you are a Duke fan, bad if you are a Xavier fan. I've watched a couple of Duke games now and they've ported over the same offensive and defensive principles as last year. Their up the line, on the line M2M defense was stifling, caused all kinds of problems for Xavier all day.

It's a great defense, though it does take more patience to install because it's all about positioning and footwork. But once you get it down, you can easily adjust the level of pressure without changing your fundamental base. So, instead of having a couple of zone presses, a halfcourt trap, a halfcourt zone, and your M2M, you just have your up the line, on the M2M defense and adjust how much up the line you want your players to play. Here are a couple of sequences from the first half of the game,

I get this question a lot so I guess it bears more explanation. What does up the line, on the line (UTL/OTL) mean? First off, UTL/OTL is only applied for M2M defenses.

In your M2M defense, you have to determine how you will play the passing lanes between the ball and the other offensive players. We say UTL if you want your defense to be positioned in the passing lane so as to deny 1 pass away. We say 3 feet UTL if you want your defense to be positioned 3 feet from the passing lane. You can adjust based on the speed and quickness of your players. A fast defense against a slow offense can be say 6 feet UTL and still deny passes.

We say OTL if we want a part of their body (hands, head, body) in the passing lane, usually we refer to hands. Next aspect of OTL is your stance. Open stance meaning ball-you-man, in other words, you can see both the ball and your man. Mostly though, if you are want to be in a denial defense, you will be in a closed stance, in other words, both feet pointed towards your check, head pointed where you can see both the ball and your check, with outside hand in the passing lane (a slightly awkward and unnatural position when compared to open stance, ball-you-man).

Duke's Denial Defense:

OK, so now that we have that out of the way, Duke is definitely an UTL/OTL closed stance M2M defense. It is designed to put a lot of pressure on the ball and to deny the passing lanes, especially one pass away. Essentially, Duke is in the same position as the diagram above,

Watch here as each defender is chest to chest with their check. This kind of defense obviously requires that you have great athletes that can defensive slide and recover with the best of them,


Xavier had problems with Duke's pressure from the get go. Now, it looks like the defense is infallible except against teams that go backdoor. Because of the closed stance UTL/OTL position, it is very difficult for a defender to be in full denial and also defend against a straight basket cut at the same time (actually, it's almost impossible, you'll have to give up one or the other). Hence, Duke struggled against a backdoor team like Michigan and in last season's tournament, had problems in the first round with Belmont.

As for Xavier, obviously, they have problems with turnovers. They'll need to shore that up as they'll see constant pressure throughout the NCAA tournament come March.

If you are a big Duke fan like me, definitely check out Mike Krzyzewski's DVD on Agility & Conditioning Drills for the Christmas season. Discuss this and the rest of your favorite basketball topics at the X's and O's Basketball Forum.