Pressure Man to Man Defense

Notice: This article was written by Steve Jordan, Coach's Notebook. Email the author at

I recently studied a video created by Dick Bennett, now coaching at University of Wisconsin – Green Bay. The title is Pressure Defense - A System, and it is available at for $39.95 (I’m sure you can locate it elsewhere, too). The video offers demonstration with players as well as quite a bit of chalkboard discussion. If this article intrigues you, I suggest you buy the video.

I really like this system. It promotes high risk, aggressive defense that can really benefit a smaller team. If you are both fast and in shape, you can keep the battle out on the middle of the court rather than under the boards.

There are several concepts that differ from the standard man to man positioning. My experience with it so far is that it takes a while for players to break old habits. When the players forget to help or to gamble, the defense is seriously compromised and easy baskets may result. The flip side, though, is well worth the risk. The opponent is easily seduced into long, lob style passes and dribbling into trouble. If you apply this defense well, the reward is substantial turnovers. Give the players time to learn it, be patient with their errors and soon they will begin to see the opportunities possible.

Here are the primary concepts with some discussion. The concepts are from the video. The discussion is based on what we have experienced this season with 9-10 grade boys. I would feel comfortable teaching it to boys as young as 5th grade. I don’t have enough experience with girls to recommend an age.

Stop the ball and 9 Ways to do it

This is the primary directive. Everything else is subordinate. A dribbler must be stopped no matter how or who must do it. As you will see further in the discussion, the positioning is highly aggressive which means the ball defender will get beat often. Teammates must help early as possible. The technique we have found to be most successful is guiding the dribbler to the sideline until he runs out of room. If he can be driven into a corner, so much the better.

The following points support the primary directive – Stop the Ball.

  1. Intense pressure on the basketball – The ball handler must face constant harassment. The weakness of this defense is passing over defenders. If the ball handler is under intense pressure, the lob pass is difficult to do well. The defense is gambling that the pass can be picked off.
  2. Pass denial – If your man is one pass away, keep one body part in the passing lane. That means the defender is not "between his man and the basket". Rather, he is between his man and the ball. This is a big departure from traditional man to man positioning, but it is a crucial part of this style. There is no sense in pressuring the basketball if the ball handler has pass avenues to safety. If he can pass easily, then there is really no pressure on him. The positioning is described by the phrase "on the line, up the line" as shown by the yellow players on the green dotted passing lines.
  3. Anticipation - The temptation will be to lob the pass over the defense. The key is to pressure the ball so passing is difficult and for the players off the ball to anticipate the pass and intercept it. A big advantage to being between your man and the ball is you can get to the ball first, and when you do, you have a lead heading towards your goal
  4. Early Help - The players off the ball must anticipate the dribbler beating his man. As soon as he gets by, there should be a second defender right there to stop the dribble. Often the ball handler is so surprised he loses the ball at that point, or is forced to retreat. If you are playing defense full court, you may see this happen several times before the offense can get all the way down the floor. Whenever a dribble gets by a man, another is waiting. If he tries to drive baseline, early help is there as needed. KEY POINT: the idea is not to double team, or even to switch men. The early help contains the ball until the original defender recovers position, then gets back to the man he was guarding. Switching may be necessary if the players are widely spread. In that case the beaten defender sprints back to take the remaining open man.
  5. Transition to Defense – Once the opponent recovers the basketball, the defense must immediately get into position. There is no jogging down the floor. The offense should never get a chance to set up or feel any relief from the defense. You are hoping for moments when the offense panics or gets rattled. The videotape makes a point that any resting is done on offense. Our point is to substitute often instead. Players can go 2 or 3 minutes at full speed, then rest on the bench as the next line goes in. Playing time is no problem. Everyone gets all the hustle they can handle. Since the focus is so defensively oriented, there is less concern about keeping a better shooter in the game. You should be getting lay-ups off the defense.
  6. Dead Front the Post – Once the ball is in the opponent’s court, play the post full front to discourage passes inside. The temptation will be to lob the pass overhead. Pressure on the ball should make that problematic for the passer and early help should be hoping and waiting for that pass. If the post moves to the top of the key, the defender will shift to coverage. If the post goes outside the perimeter he isn’t posting anymore so play between him and the ball.
  7. Prevent Ball Reversal – Use your pressure on the ball to guide the offense to the side then down to the corner. Once they are on the side, do not allow the ball to reverse. This can be challenging, but if you maintain position between the ball and your man you should be able to limit passes back around the perimeter. With the aggressive tactic of being between the man and the ball, should the ball suddenly get to the weak side, all of your defense will be out of position temporarily. The defenders will need to rotate rapidly to stop the ball.
  8. Fill the Weak-Side – When the ball is two passes away, have a body part in the key. Stay as low as the ball. The idea is that if a dribbler is able to penetrate, defense is already in the key to help. If the offense makes a long pass, there is enough time to jump out and defend the pass recipient.
  9. Sink on Penetration – If the other team is successful getting the ball to the post, collapse on him. That means the guard drops in to help, too. Force the post to pass the ball back outside and feel victorious when he does. The point is that you are in less danger with the ball outside than inside. If a shot is attempted block out. At least it is better than allowing an inside shot.

Other Points:

  1. Only one man helps. With the early help, you will see instances of two players helping. You just need the closest one to help. The players will need to communicate their intentions.
  2. Don’t leave your man to go set a trap! That action just leaves someone open for a pass. Only leave your man to stop the ball. Once the ball is stopped and the original defender recovers, get back to your own man (or if some is helping you at this point, pick up his man)
  3. Defending a Pick and Roll – Use the early help principle. The way the dribbler will (should) go is given away by the position of the screener. The screener’s defender jumps out early giving the dribbler no where to go. The man guarding the dribbler drops back to cover the screener. If the ball handler cheats and goes opposite the screen, his defender should be able to stick with him as he won’t be impeded by the screen.
  4. Use the Shell Drill to practice positioning.


Full Court Pressure
On the line - Up the line
Anticipate passes!
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Full Court Pressure
On the line - Up the line
Anticipate dribbler's man getting beaten
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Pass Denial
1 pass - up and on line
2 passes - in the key
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Prevent Ball Reversal
pass denial and
sinking in the key
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Dead Front the Post
Pass denial, sinking in the key and prevent ball reversal
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Defending the
Pick and Roll
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