Basketball Transition Defense: are You Tom Izzo or Coach Bennett?

by on March 31, 2010
in Strategy

By: Coach DeForest

Why is this Important?

If you ask most coaches to describe what the game of basketball is when you simplify it to its basic principles they will give you offense and defense. While this is true, Bobby Knight believes that transition is a critical component of sound basketball. Think about it for a second…if you are a great half court defensive team, but you allow transition lay-ups, how good is your defense? In a worse cast scenario, if your players aren’t crashing the glass for the offensive rebound and they aren’t back in transition, then where the heck are they? We are going to examine where they should be in regards to two different philosophies on what a team should do after a missed shot.

Offensive Rebounding or Limiting Transition Opportunities

As a coach you basically have to choose between two options in regards to transition defense. Remember that you can’t be good at everything or you are going to be good at nothing. For example, if you try to crash the offensive glass, but you expect the other team not to score any lay-ups in transition then you are setting your team up for failure. CHOOSE and EMPHASIZE your philosophy based on the talent of your team. Also remember that the philosophy a coach chooses should mirror their offensive philosophy. I would like to present the two basic philosophies that most coaches adopt in regards to transition defense.

The Philosophy to Offensive Rebound

Tom Izzo, the great coach at Michigan State, has built his program on the belief that most teams aren’t good at the defensive box out. His teams are among the nation’s leaders in rebounding margin (+11.7) since he took over the Spartan program. He spends at least 15 minutes each practice on teaching his players the habits to crash the offensive glass. They fight and compete to tip the ball, keep it alive, and own the offensive glass. A byproduct of this hard work is that his teams are fantastic at defensive box outs because they are used to going to “war” (a drill he uses) each day in practice. Most teams don’t compete like the Spartans on the glass. For more information, take a look at his DVD: Tom Izzo-Dominating Rebounding & Man to Man Defensive Drills.

Basic Offensive Rebounding Principles

· Choose if you are more athletic than the best teams in your conference

· Point guard to half court line and everyone else to the paint to rebound

· Stress that 70% of all rebounds come opposite – overload that side on shots

· Practice and chart – do your players get 4 to the paint and the PG to half court in your drills? Offense? Defense?

· Teach them to tap the ball against the backboard if they can’t come down with it

· Keep the ball alive – TIP it!

· Celebrate offensive rebounding

· Never accept it, but be prepared to see teams fast break more often

The Philosophy of Limiting Fast Break Opportunities

On the other hand, another great coach that believes coaches have control over transition, Dick Bennett of Washington State, would send two and sometimes three players back depending on the opponent in an effort to neutralize fast break opportunities. His teams traditionally held opponents under 60 points per game. Coach Bennett’s philosophy was that his team was better than your team at half court execution on offense and defense. His teams only pressed if behind in games late and they played strictly man-to-man defense. In other words, his teams were simple to prepare for, but difficult to beat because of their execution. For more information, take a look at his DVD: Dick Bennett’s “Pack-line” Pressure Defense.

Basic Principles of Limiting Transition Opportunities

· Choose if you are less athletic than the best teams in your conference

· Send the PG to the opposite FT line and the Off Guard to the half court line

· Another option is to also send the shooter back immediately against superior teams along with the two guards

· Stress that we are not giving up ANY transition lay-ups

· Work on defending scramble situations in the full court every day

· Teach how you want to match-up and remember that open shots NOT match-ups beat you

· Practice and chart – do your players have defensive balance in your drills? Offense? Defense?

· Choose offensive sets that allow for defensive balance; For example: stay away from 1-4 low sets or the Flex. Instead use 2-3 high sets or 4 out – 1 in motion

Prepare them the best you can so that your team can achieve to the best of their potential because you put them in the best situation to succeed. Transition is often overlooked and the main thing a coach needs to do is decide from Day 1 what their team is going to do in regards to defensive transition. Teach that all year long and emphasize it in practices and games. I hope this article has helped you to better understand the two basic philosophies of transition defense.

About the Author

This is an Online Basketball Coaches’ Club designed to help other coaches learn about this game. If you want to learn more about these coaches or philosophies, join our online coaches club at Basketball Coaches Club ( or email me at

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