I've written about the Triangle and 2 defense before and since Kansas used it to great effect this past NCAA tournament, most notably in their win over North Carolina, I thought I would revisit it and add some thoughts to what I had written previously especially since I used it off and on during this past season.
As Rick Majerus says in his Triangle and 2 defense Clinic DVD, the triangle and 2 should not be used as a staple of your defensive system. I agree completely with that statement, and Majerus goes on to say that the most important aspect of running the defense is knowing when to go to it, and when to go out of it. The perfect example is the way Bill Self used it with his Kansas team against Purdue and North Carolina, late in the 2nd half when they needed to cool down a hot shooter, and to slow the relentless Carolina fast break. I also agree with Bill Self's decision not to use it against Kentucky, if the other team has 4 good players/shooters on the floor, the triangle and 2 is not the defense to be in.
The key to running a good triangle and 2 defense is finding a player to put on their 3rd best player. That defender will play the point at the top of the triangle in the zone, but is also responsible mostly for the 3rd best player on the floor. That is where your best overall defender should play, not against any of the 2 top scorers. In fact, you probably want to put 2 of your more mediocre defenders (but must be quick) on the 2 top scorers, they are in all out denial (butt to the ball, belly to the man), and they are forcing those 2 players to go backdoor.
Yes, I said that correctly, you want to force the 2 top scorers to go backdoor into triangle zone where they will be met by the 3 defenders. Dribble penetration is encouraged, again because they will most likely be dribbling right into the zone.
Back to the 3rd best scorer on the floor. Your point man in the triangle has the toughest job because he must help on any dribble penetration by the 2 top scorers, but also closeout on the 3rd best scorer. The 3rd best scorer must not be allowed to take a catch and shoot open 3-pointer, instead we want to force the 3rd best scorer to dribble into a shot.
The 2 post defenders must play good post defense. There are some differing opinions on whether to half-front, full-front, or play behind. Majerus likes the full-front, others like to play behind for better rebounding position. I think it depends on your scouting report, if the team has capable back to the basket post players, you probably want to play some form of front. The key for the post-players is that if they are forced to play anybody on the perimeter or in the corner, they do what is called a fake and fade. They stay square to the ball with high hands to entice a dribble drive with a hop forward, then an immediate hop back. In this way, they attempt to level off any dribble drive and force the dribbler to go around the defender where help will eventually be there.
Based on past experience, what hurts the triangle and 2 the most is when the offense uses screens (off-ball and on-ball) between the 2 scorers and the 3rd scorer. The 2 scorers can play a little 2 man game and screen for each other in a pick and roll to get open. It is therefore critical that you have a plan to deal with those screens, whether you plan to trap, hard show, go under, or switch. My experience has been switching has been most effective. Another offensive tatic that is particularly effective is to put the point defender on the triangle in conflict by:
- dribble drive at the point defender and kickout to the 3rd best scorer for a 3-point shot
- wide pin down screen for one of the 2 top scorers backside forcing the point defender to defend the curl
- slip screen the 3rd best scorer and force the 2 post defenders to rotate
Finally, in transition defense, the point defender cannot be an offensive rebounder. His job after a shot goes up is to immediately sprint back to the defend the basket. The 2 deny defenders find their checks immediately to deny, and the 2 post defenders get back as soon as they can.
Like all defenses, the triangle and 2 is a defense in which all players must constantly communicate. Everyone must know where the 3rd best scorer is, and be ready to help on any dribble drive or backdoor cuts.
This past season in the second round of a tournament against a top team, we used the triangle and 2 after getting slaughtered in the first half 30-10, we ended up losing the game 42-37. We came out of halftime and the other team was completely stymied, they went scoreless for 8 straight minutes, their players were heard going to the bench during a timeout saying "we don't know what they're running, it's like a zone but not a zone". The other team ended up hitting a 3 pointer late to give them the lead and we tried playing the fouling game but just couldn't overcome the deficit. The team ended up going on to win the tournament.