The Louisville Cardinals played today and I had the chance to take some clips from the vaunted Rick Pitino pressure defense. In most cases, they ran a 2-2-1 sideline matchup press. What I really wanted to show in the video is that when you run a full-court press, the goal isn't always necessarily to get steals. There is a mis-conception that steals are the only goal of running a full-court press. When you run full-court pressure, it forces the opposing team to speed up their play and make decisions they wouldn't normally make without pressure. Just because a team has "broken" the press doesn't mean they will actually score. Watch the video and then you can read my thoughts below.

Before I draw up one example from the clips, here are the points of emphasis,

1. Forces bad shots. If you are a pressure team, you'll know from experience that good pressure will force the opposing team to take bad shots in transition. The reason for this is once the press is broken, teams are always taught to "make the defense pay". Well, this usually means taking a 3-pointer on the run, or in the video, a jumper with 3-defenders on him.

2. Forces bad passes. This is the most important one. Most teams will break your press with a fast dribbler, a Leandro Barbosa type player. Problem is, most of the time when they play top speed, they are out of control. If you're the defensive team, out of control is good, out of control means throwing the ball away. In the video, there are 2 plays that almost seem like deja vu. Also, you'll see on the inbounds, pressure just makes the offense make bad plays they wouldn't normally make.

3. Creates steals. Most obviously, a good pressure team will get plenty of steals off of all of the above.

Pitino's 2-2-1 Matchup Press:

On the surface, it appears to be your average 2-2-1 press, but it's much more than that, it's a matchup press in that in addition to maintaining the 2-2-1 form, they also man up.

So each player has a man, but must also trap in the traditional trapping zones of a 2-2-1. So when O4 comes down from the sideline, X4 must pickup.

Trap Sideline, force reversal:

Once the ball has been inbounded to the sideline, X4 and X1 are suppose to trap the defender there. You see this many times in the video. This will rarely result in a play for the defense, but forces the offense to reverse the ball back to the safety.

Once the ball goes to the safety, the offense has the option to dribble out to the other sideline/middle or complete the ball reversal to the other side. In this case, X1 and X3 go to trap O3.

Take away middle, force cross-court:

Each defender has picked up a man, but since this is a pressure defense with two players trapping, one offensive player is left open, O2 on the other side of the court.

This is where we want the offense to throw the ball to. X2 is actually defending 2 people, O2 and and O1 in the middle. Since O1 is more of a threat, X2 is mostly covering O1. If the pass is attempted to O2, X2 will move while the pass is in the air to recover to O2. In this case, the pass was long and the result is a turnover.


Remember, the goal of your press shouldn't always be a steal. Pressure defense is more about forcing the team to play at a tempo that they aren't normally used to. They will take bad shots, they will throw the ball away, that is just human nature. People get uncomfortable when hurried. Looking at the boxscore, Jackson St. turned the ball over 16 times, while Louisville picked up just 5 steals. Looking at that box score you wouldn't think that the pressure defense made a big difference but it shows up in more ways than the boxscore indicates.

Rick Pitino released a VHS tape on his pressure defense over 10 years ago which hasn't made it to DVD yet. If you're looking into more pressure defense ideas, Coach Bruce Pearl's new DVD called the Encyclopedia on pressure defense has plenty to offer in most pressure systems. As usual, head over to the X's and O's of Basketball Forum to talk hoops with other coaches.