Match-Up Press

Full Court 1-2-1-1 Match-Up Press
Part I – Basic Principles
By Hal Wissel

The 1-2-1-1 match-up press is designed to put relentless pressure on the opposition. This press is an aggressive match-up defense that is normally utilized over the full court for the full game. The objective is to speed up the tempo and force the action over the entire court, thus making physical condition a key factor in the outcome.
     The match-up press is also used to confuse the opponents with subtle adjustments. When properly timed and executed, these tactics can upset a well-disciplined team and cause errors and panic. But, whatever the in adjustments in the press – whether being more active or passive – the main purpose is to force the action and pace.
     This press can provide a way to win through superior condition, savvy, spirit and aggressiveness rather than just pure skill. The objective is to cause the opposition to become fatigued. Fatigue impairs the athlete’s skill and more importantly desire.
     The match-up integrates the principles of man-to-man and zone by focusing on both the man and the ball. It has, basically, two starting points as follows:
1. The most common set-up starts as a zone front, and then adjusts to man-to-man pick-ups. It normally allows the first pass inbounds, although it influences its direction.
2. The second set-up starts with man-to-man assignments. It generally attempts to deny the first pass inbounds, but it can be played more passively. After the first pass, the adjustment is made to basic pressing principles. The players match-up according to the offensive formation and movement of their opponents. Each defensive player takes the attacker in the zone in which the defender is deployed. This enables key defensive personnel to be in the positions where they can most effectively utilize their physical advantages and defensive skills.
The 1-2-1-1 match-up press, utilizes five variables in different combinations, namely initial set-up, court areas, match-ups, basic nature, and options.

Initial Set-up


Initial Set-up. The basic full court match-up press operates from 1-2-1-1 set-up. Inbounder 1 and wings 2 and 3 comprise the front-line defense, rover 4 and protector 5 make up the secondary or back-line defense, and the strong-side wing and the rover make up the sideline defense. See the Initial Set-up diagram below. 










Press Areas


Full Court Press Areas. Communication becomes a vital necessity, when setting up the game plan and making changes within the press, particularly with regard to different options. To facilitate communication, divide the full court into three areas. See the Full Court Press Areas in diagram above.                       

 Area I, Front Line Area or Initial Area – from the pressing team’s offensive baseline to a parallel, imaginary line at the sideline hash mark 28 feet out.
 Area II, Secondary Area – from the imaginary line at the sideline hash mark 28 feet out to the imaginary line at sideline hash 28 feet from the defensive baseline.
 Area III. Scoring Area – from the imaginary line 28 feet out to the pressing team’s defensive baseline.

Examples of court area coaching terms include the following:

“Do not look to trap in Area I.”
“We should get more flicks from behind in Area II.
“After the ball is reversed, we must come back up and get a secondary trap in Area II.
“Weak-side wing forget about staying up for a secondary trap and use a faster retreat, looking to intercept or rebound in the Scoring Area.” 

Communication is also aided by the use of key words such as “Switch!” “Clear!” “Up!” “Middle!” and “Back!” Helpful statements include “I have the ball, take 25!” “Force him to me!”  “I’m going up, cover long!” It takes time to set up the full-court match-up press and adjust the variables. Therefore, on any shift from offense to defense after a missed shot, intercepted pass or stolen ball, automatically start with man-to-man pick-ups.

The best opportunities for setting up the press occur in the following order:

  1. After a time-out.
  2. After a converted free throw.
  3. After a field goal.
  4. After a ball goes out of bounds and the clock is stopped (or not stopped).
  5. Other breaks in the action.

Player 5, the protector is considered the “director.” During short breaks in the action, player 5 listens for directions from the coach and then relays them to teammates.

     Match-ups. The 1-2-1-1 will often take on a different look when an adjustment is made to match the offensive set-up.

As a rule, the offense will set up with either two players up near the baseline to receive the inbounds pass or one player up and another player flashing up. The press alignment is adjusted to take on the same look as the offensive formation.

     Match-up guidelines are as follows:
1. Match-up with the offensive player in your area.
2. With more than one offensive player in your area, press the player with the ball, except when you must be the protector.
3. Situation with more than one offensive player in your area without the ball: If the press is passive, take the offensive player who is down court. If the press is active, guard the player up court and nearer the ball.
4. With no one in your area, drop back toward the basket and toward the middle looking for someone flashing into your area from behind.
5. Look to help out in a zone that is overloadedto pick up a cutter coming from an area in front.

The methods used to match-up and trade off cutters may vary from game to game, depending on scouting reports. If the offense changes, match-up methods may be adjusted during the game. Practice the various types of match-ups both during the pre-season and prior to each game. The objective is for players to develop the confidence that they can cope with any offensive plan and changes in it.

     Basic Nature: Active or Passive. Though the press is usually used over the full game, the nature of the press will probably change. It can go from passive to active, or vice versa.

     The passive press offers only token resistance. This enables a coach to observe the opposition’s plan of attack and to lull them into a false sense of security. It does not aim to surprise, but, rather, to upset the opponents timing and tire them out in the late stages of the game.

     The active press intensifies the pressure on the offensive player with the ball, incurs more risk in overplaying passing lanes, and works harder at double-teaming and forcing the opposition to change their offensive attack.

     Passive Press. The primary objective of the passive full-court press is to prevent the opposition from scoring and, at the same time eliminate rest periods and thus wear out the opponents, and spread out the offense and thus upset its timing and cause errors.

     The passive press attempts to accomplish this by:

  1. Reducing the opponents shot attempts: pressuring them into violations, bad passes, and fumbles, drawing the charge, and stealing the ball.
  2. Curtailing the number of good percentage shots: forcing the ball away from the middle; denying passes to receivers inside the foul line extended; preventing the ball from going into the low post; denying the flash post; minimizing the number of shots from inside 18 feet; preventing the opposition from taking the shots they like; hawking the star scorer – giving the star player few shots and double-teaming the star player when necessary.
  3. Curtailing the number of second shots: obtaining at least 75% of the defensive rebounds, and 100% of all loose balls.
  4. Preventing the cheap or garbage baskets: understanding the concept of the safe risk in double-team situations, attacking the ball, trying for a steal, etc.; using good judgment; avoiding the kind of carelessness that allows the opposition to score from a jump ball, out-of-bounds play, rebound of a missed free throw, interception of a bad pass, loose ball after a shot, etc.
  5. Never allowing an uncontested shot; playing the good outside shooter tight; keeping hands up and attempting to block all shots, reducing fouls to a minimum.
Passive Press



Passive Press Rules.

Inbounder 1 influences ball away from middle. First pass is permitted in front of wings 2 and 3.

Inbounder 1, instead of trapping receiver, drops back to play pass back to offensive player who inbounded ball.

Strong-side wing 2 pressures ball.

Weak-side wing 3 drops back to 45 degrees and plays pass to middle looking for cutter from front or behind. Cutter is forced behind.

Rover 4 denies pass to strong-side sideline.

Protector 5 denies long pass.


     Active Press. The major objective of the active full-court press is to force mistakes and exploit them for baskets. It forces the opposition to yield the ball quickly, often in a position which leads to a fast break.

          The active press attempts to accomplish this by:

  1. Sometimes preventing the ball from being passed in bounds: overplaying all immediate receivers; playing off other receivers and attempting to intercept lob passes to the immediate receivers. On a completed pass, the following must occur in order: protect the basket, check the ball, quickly rotate to a new man, meanwhile looking to intercept the ball or draw a charge.
  2. Preventing the ball handler from penetrating to the middle of the court and toward the basket. The defender on the ball must force the first dribble to be with the weak hand; force a reverse turn and work to force three reverse turns; anticipate and draw the charge; force to sideline and or toward another defender, use the defensive moves – head on ball, block front change of direction, fake and flick, attack and retreat, reverse, run and turn or flick on recovery.
  3. Overplaying immediate receivers and playing off others in order to apply maximum pressure on the ball: forcing the opposition out of their normal pattern, upsetting their timing and generally speeding up play; trying to intercept passes, especially the bounce and lob – encourage the backdoor pass, fake an opponent into thinking a pass can be made to the receiver you are guarding.
  4. Sagging and flicking when playing behind the ball and outside an opponent’s scoring range: attempting to stop the dribble, getting a held ball or causing a lost ball; recovering.
  5. At opportune times leaving a man off the ball and attacking the dribbler: using defensive moves – jump switch, hedge, double-team; forcing one of these reactions – stopping the dribble, delaying the dribble, changing the dribbler’s direction, getting a held ball or steal.
  6. Preventing anyone from receiving a pass once the dribble is stopped. Players call “Shut out!”
  7. Forcing hurried shots and other poor field goal attempts.
  8. Blocking shots in the high percentage area.
  9. Obtaining at least 75% of the defensive rebounds. 
  10. Changing quickly from defense to offense.
Active Press


Active Press Rules.

Both Inbounder 1 and strong-side wing play middle, then go for trap. Note how Inbounder 1 steps back and squares to ball rather than going direct to the receiver. Coaching points on trap: Trappers’ toes and knees are together to prevent ball handler from splitting trap and force a bad pass or interception. Trappers’ hands are up and not reaching for ball to avoid fouling. Trappers do not try to steal ball.

Weak-side wing 3’s normal option is to drop back to 45 degrees and play pass to middle looking for cutter from in front or behind. Cutter is forced behind.

Rover 4 denies pass to strong-side sideline.

Protector 5 denies long diagonal pass. 




Active Wing Up



Active Press Wing Up Option. This is a more aggressive option for the active press.

Inbounder and Strong-side wing trap the ball.

Weak-side wing, rather than playing at a 45 degree angle, plays up to try and intercept a pass back to the player who inbounded the ball. See frame 1 of diagram

Rover 4 reads the ball handler’s eyes to determine if the pass will go to the middle rather than the strong-side sideline.

Protector 5 reads the rover’s move. If the rover moves to intercept a pass to the middle, and a lob pass is attempted to the strong-side sideline the protector may yell “I’m up!” and go for an interception. The rover must sprint back to protect the basket when he hears the rover yell “I’m up!. See frame 2 of diagram.





Secondary Area Sideline Trap. When the ball handler dribbles up the sideline or if the ball is passed up the sideline into the Secondary Area,

Rover 4 traps the ball with the retreating strong-side wing. See frame 1 of diagram.

Protector 5 reads the ball handler’s eyes and moves to intercept a diagonal pass to the middle.

If the protector goes for an interception on a pass up the strong-side sideline or rotates to defend a shooter at the strong-side corner,

Weak-side wing 3 must sprint back to protect the basket, deny a post-up and rebound. See frame 2 of the diagram.


Although he 1-2-1-1 match-up press will usually be used over the entire game, the nature of the press will probably change. It can go from passive to active or vice versa. The passive press offers only token resistance. This enables you to observe the opposition’s plan of attack and to lull them into a false sense of security. It does not aim to surprise, but to upset the opponents’ timing and cause them to be fatigued in the late stages of the game. The active press intensifies the pressure on the ball handler, incurs more risk in overplaying passing lanes, and works harder at trapping and forcing the opposition to change their offensive attack.

Become a Insider to get Part II – Options and Part III – Rules by Position. 

You need to be logged in to see this part of the content. Please Login to access.