Duke vs. The 1-3-1


Last week, Duke manhandled the 2-3 zone. They shot over it, ran through it and rebounded over it. Now prior to the Baylor game, I gave you a five-point plan on how Duke could beat the 2-3 zone. I don’t want to brag (yes I do), but I nailed it pretty good.

We said:

– Hit threes from the top of the key and from the elbows, while avoiding the corner shot. Duke did this. They took only two shots from the corner, missing them both. From everywhere else, they were 11-21 from three.
– Get into the lane and hit the mid-range jumper. They did or rather, Nolan Smith did. He rolled through the lane pulling up to hit his runner.
– Lance Thomas becomes a scoring machine. I’ll say I was right, only because he tried to become a scoring machine. Thomas took five shots in the opening 10 minutes, because in a 2-3 zone, he would be open along the baseline. Too bad all of them were blocked because Lance isn’t known for his ability to finish.
– Defend before the ball hits the rim. The Blue Devils did a okay job at this. The Bears got some runs and had their open dunks in transition, but overall, Dunn and Carter did not run free.
– Play ugly. Duke did, they always do and they won.

Tonight though, it’s going to be a whole new ball game. West Virginia will come in with their 1-3-1 zone, which is nothing like the 2-3 zone.

The idea behind the 1-3-1 is to cover the four corners, while maintaining a presence in the middle along the free throw line. While no one player is guarding anyone, the idea is, you’ll have two guys on a ball-handler the second he tries to get the ball inside.

Now West Virginia does it a little different. Normally, you put your small, speedy guard up top to handle to ball, but Coach Huggins likes to drop his guard down low, literally fronting the center. Yes, the 5’11 Mazulla will be fronting 7’1 Brian Zoubek.

Now the reason why you don’t see a lot of 1-3-1 zone is the fact that you need a certain type of players to do it. Now the Mountaineers aren’t the most athletic team, but they are long…very long. They can go from side-to-side quickly thanks to seven-foot wing spans.

So what’s the secret? How do you beat the 1-3-1 zone? I got five ways for you.

First, this won’t be easy. Duke is not a running team. When an opponent misses, Duke typically holds and slows the game down. They’ll need to do some running. The reason being, when West Virginia misses a shot, they’ll often fall back into man-to-man.

The trick to the 1-3-1 is rotating from side to side and from the mid-court to the corners. If you pass the ball around the key right-to-left, the whole zone shifts with it. The Blue Devils will need to take their time and work the ball around and then BAM, hit them with a ball fake and deliver it back, shoot up or pass it inside. Make them bite and the shots will be there.

Again the 2-3, the corner was the place to avoid. Against the 1-3-1, the three-point shot from the corner is where you’ll find the hole. The trick is to not just stand there, but to slide to the spot, ready to receive a pass, ready to shoot. You can do this either on the ball fake or doing a little inside-out action. If the wing player is even slightly up to high, the only player capable of getting a hand in the face will be the 5’11 Mazzolla. Hit those shots and you win.

Whoever is in the post, the man fronting them will be Mazzolla. West Virginia can do this because if the ball does get inside, then another Mountaineer collapses from the backside, thus doubling the big man. If Duke can get the ball inside, whether its to Zoubek, Thomas or the Plumlee brothers, don’t dick around. Get that shot up now!

Block out. Block out. Block out. With the 1-3-1, you have one player standing up at the top of the key, three players stretched out at the free throw line, with one small guard underneath. This leaves two Duke players underneath for rebounding. Sounds like Duke has the advantage, right? Maybe, but think about it. Once the shot goes up, assuming Scheyer, Smith and Singler are circling the three-point line, West Virginia has four guys to Duke’s two nearest to the basket. This just means that Duke’s two big men need to block out, grab that board and kick it back out quickly, while the Mountaineers are inside the paint.

Here’s the deal, Duke can beat this zone. Think about last week’s match up between West Virginia and Kentucky. The Wildcats shot 32 three-point shots, but missed 28 of them. Many of those shots were open looks. The Mountaineers also fouled a lot, sending Kentucky to the line 29 times. Too bad for them they only hit 16 of them. And finally, Kentucky dominated the glass, out-rebounding West Virginia 45-34, including 22-9 on the offensive end.

Of course this won’t be the first time this Duke team has faced the 1-3-1. In fact last year, the Blue Devils faced it twice, both times against Michigan. Once they won (in Madison Square Gardens) and once they loss (at Michigan). In those two games, Duke only shot 11-52 from three (21%). However, they dominated inside, hitting 44-62 from two-point range (71%).