The 1-3-1 full court press is a strategy of basketball defense. Press defenses will focus on direct on-ball pressure and sending the offense into traps. But the 1-3-1 formation in particular lends itself to containment, disrupting the offensive rhythm and forcing turnovers. The balanced formation makes recovery a little smoother than some similar presses.
The 1-3-1 press requires endurance, focus and skill from all five defenders. You’re going to have a lot of running, communication, and quick decision-making. The defensive players must be able to recognize offensive counters and adjust their positions accordingly. Your defenders need to work together as a team and be willing to sacrifice their bodies to ensure the ball is secured.
If you’re just getting into this topic, I recommend popping over to my post on translating basketball defense to make sure you’re caught up on all of the lingo we’re going to run into.
Otherwise, we’ll start with a quick breakdown to catch you up on the basics. For those in search of a comprehensive understanding, we’ll dive progressively deeper into the theory of the 1-3-1 press.
What does the 1-3-1 Press Look Like?
The 1-3-1 Press Setup
Structurally, the foundation of a 1-3-1 press is a hard line of 3 defenders around half-court. The remaining 2 players then, are placed in front of and behind that lineup, forming a large diamond at the center of the court. This formation can be expanded and compressed across the court as the situation demands.
Here’s the basic initial alignment… Offense is coming from the left.
Implementation of the 1-3-1 Full Court Press
The goal of this formation is to create a wall that pushes the offense into corner traps before they can even launch an attack.
The typical 1-3-1 formation starts with the point guard out front and the center back in the paint. The remaining players form an evenly spaced line along half court.
Player Roles in the 1-3-1 Press
The point steers the ball handler off towards the sidelines. The center protects the basket. And the center line backs up the point for traps. But let’s look a little deeper.
I’ve also seen this called the ‘chaser’. One player is deep in enemy territory, providing the first bit of resistance that the offense will contend with. In this setup, it almost looks like there’s not much that lead player can do, but they’re crucial to the strategy.
You probably want a player with a big motor and strong defensive skills here. They need to chase the ball handler here and provide just enough pressure to direct the ball towards the sidelines. This will mean a lot of movement across the width of the court. With a full-court 1-3-1 press, most coaches will tell you you’re looking for a trap on either side, just a little past mid-court.
This player should hold off on playing too close on the ball until we move past the free throw line. they should be more conscious of passing, particularly passing towards the middle.
This is sometimes referred to as the ‘goalie’ or even the ‘warrior’ in this setup. But this will almost always be your center. You want your biggest player back there guarding the basket.
Some teams and specific strategies might be better off putting a taller player up front. This can help disrupt passes. It’ll also make it a little easier for your big to recover. Running your center the full length of the court on every possession is not ideal.
If you position your fastest player near the basket though, they’ll be able to quickly recover to the opposite side of the court in the event of a turnover. And with your tallest player at the point, they’re already the closest to the basket, on top of that added reach in the face of passing. Plus you’ve got the middle to back them up if they get run by.
The player at the center of the diamond is responsible for clogging up that center line. they should be very conscious of disrupting passes to the center. And, if the press is broken, this player will likely become the on-ball defender, dogging any movement down towards the basket.
On the wings, you’re looking for some solid basic defensive skills. They need to work with the point guy to trap on the sidelines, while keeping an eye out to shut down passing opportunities. As time goes on, these players should rack up the most steals.
1-3-1 Press Rotations
With the lead player cutting off passing into the middle, we would hope to see the ball moving towards the sidelines. That means that the key rotations on this defense should be simple adjustments to either side of the court, dictated by ball movement.
As the offense moves beyond the free throw line and in along either sideline, the point defender should tighten up on the ball. Meanwhile, the middle player and the opposite-side wing should start sagging down towards the opposite goal a little to clog up passes into the middle or out to the opposite side.
The wing on the ball side should stay put or sag slightly towards their own goal, inviting the ball handler to move across half court and setting themselves up to slam down the trap with the point player.
The path of least resistance here should be for the ball handler to simply dribble themselves right into the wing on their side and get trapped along the sidelines between that wing and the point player. The alternative should be a backwards pass to the middle or a pass to the opposite sideline.
If a pass means it’s a stretch for the point player in this formation to closeout on the ball, the middle player can take over. But this means the point should quickly transition into the middle role.
This is all quite dependent on stopping progress near center court. If the offense is able to beat you down court, they’re facing a tail defender who is stretched across the court.
When to use the 1-3-1 Press
In accordance with the broader theories of press defense, you’re trying to wear down your offense, forcing a strategy adjustment on their end. The 1-3-1 press has the added qualities of being particularly unique, making it a little more difficult for the offense to spot than your average press while also being disruptive enough that the offense is going to have to make some strong adjustments to combat it. The 1-3-1 can easily look like a number of other strategies, making it difficult for your opponent to quickly figure out what you’re doing and adjust.
This can be a great strategy if you’re getting desperate to shift the momentum of the game. Is the opposing team on an offensive streak? Are they tearing apart your current defensive strategy? If you’re forcing an adjustment in offense and that adjustment is delayed, this could be the disruption you need to pull back the upper hand.
This can also be great for a particularly athletic team, or at least a team with a few high energy players. If you’ve got even one great defender, you’re sending them up, with solid support, against every offensive assault.
This is probably not the strategy for an inexperienced team, as it can take some practice to pull it off well. Make sure you’ve got the basics down and a strong and athletic crew before trying to work this one into the rotation. Even if this style of defense is successful in an under-experienced league, it may not be the right choice for player development.
- The 131 full court press helps to create turnovers, which can lead to increased scoring opportunities.
- It can help to disrupt the opponent’s offensive flow and slow down the game.
- It can be used to create a more aggressive defensive atmosphere and can help to boost team morale.
- It can wear your crew out, making them less effective in other areas of the game.
- If the press is broken it will open up a clear run to the basket.
How to Beat the 1-3-1 Press
There are some features of the 1-3-1 Press that we can take advantage of.
For one, it’s a high energy strategy. If you don’t have the right athleticism on your team, they’re going to get gassed out.
It also leaves the corners and the high post very vulnerable. You’re counting on one player to handle most of your back court, both corners and under the basket. If your press gets broken and the opposing offense is deep in your court, you’re giving away the corners and you’re probably very vulnerable in the paint. On top of that, just imagine the offensive rebound potential here.
A specific strategy you can work at is to encourage an early trap on your side of the court. This press is often deeply dependent on trapping beyond half court, but some coaches will be okay with pushing the trap up the court. If this is the case, you’re left with a lot of space to work with in the defenders backcourt. If your players understand how to use this space, they’ve got a strong chance at cutting for a pass that’s going to leave them under-matched and in scoring range.
Origins of the 131 Full Court Press
These plays are always so tough to pin down. even if it’s widely attributed to one person, it’s likely that it was also hit on, independently, at some point, by someone else. There is some lineage here that we can dig into.
Bernard “Red” Sarachek coached basketball at Yeshiva University in New York City from 1940-1969. He mentored a number of well-known coaches, including William “Red” Holzman who led the Knicks from 1967-1982.
Sarachek is credited with the invention of the 1-3-1 Zone in its half-court form. It’s a short leap from there to stretch the formation out across the floor. Sarachek, who was known to constantly evolve and experiment with strategies and configurations, would likely have done so. The half-court form serves essentially the same purpose as the longer version, seeking to wear down the offense, shift momentum, and trap at the sidelines.
Coach John Beilein is also a known proponent of the 1-3-1 and deployed this defense widely as head coach of the Michigan Wolverines from 2007-2019.
How to Teach the 1-3-1 Press
As always, it depends on the level you’re working at. With younger players, you may not get beyond directing them to a certain region of the court. As your teams collective IQ slides up, you can incorporate a more complete explanation of the concepts that drive this strategy.
I’ve found 2 instructional videos to be particularly helpful in building an understanding of this strategy.
The first is from the Basketball Coach Allen Youtube channel. It offers a strong breakdown of the basic rotation.
1-3-1 Press Basketball Defense
The second is from the Coach Russ Youtube Channel. This one focuses on the half-court 1-3-1 press, but it offers some different takes and expands on the roles and rotations a little more.
131 Full Court Press Drills
A major focus of the 1-3-1 formation should be placed on rotations. To make this press effective, you need your team to internalize the correct formation shifts in response to ball movement. Ideally, you’re just working through this adjustment with the whole team.
It’s not unreasonable to decouple and just focus on the movements of your wing players. As the ball crosses back and forth over the court, the two wings should be operating like pistons, the ball-side wing closing out, while the opposite wing sinks back to defend the pass. This can be crucial to the rotation and easier to focus on as you build up to training the full formation.
Two-Line Passing Drill: This drill helps push endurance in chaos. Line up two teams of four players, with each team at opposite ends of the court. The first player in each line passes the ball to the first player in the opposite line and then sprints to the end of the opposite line. The drill continues until each player has passed the ball and all players have moved to the opposite line.
What are Some Similar Defensive Strategies to the 1-3-1 Press?
The 1-3-1 Press, classified as a press defense would tend to bare similarities to most full or 3/4 court press defenses. In this case, it’s super similar to the half-court 1-3-1 zone from which it presumably emerged.
But part of the draw of this formation is that it is somewhat unique, and often demands a similarly unique offensive strategy.