Let me start by saying that our team last year played man to man defense 100% of the time last season and in the past 3 seasons I'd guess my teams have played 65-70% man to man with the remaining being mostly a half court trap or full court pressure. Having said that, someone would think that I am against using a zone defense. Some coaches are man to man regardless of personnel. I respect that. Some coaches are zone coaches for different reasons. I run more zone defense with my AAU team mainly because we don't practice daily. Recently, I've started leaning more towards zone. I believe that everyone should be taught man to man defense. It is a fundamental priority of youth, and junior high coaches to teach man to man. Teach, not necessarily use in win/lose situations but it should be taught. Here are 3 thoughts on playing zone vs man.
#1 Sometimes You Need a Fence to Guard the House when You Don't have a Big Dog
Using a zone to limit and neutralize an opponents strong post play is a reason I've used a zone defense in the past. Teams of limited size need to have a pack mentality, especially on defense. Post defense shouldn't start on the block where it's one on one. It should start twenty feet from the basket with ball pressure limiting vision and passing opportunities. (This is true of man to man also). Teams lacking size have to "Pack Rebound"- all five attacking the glass. By utilizing a zone defense, teams are able to continue pressure while not allowing the opposing team to control the paint. Zones slow down fast teams, provide help on post-play driven teams and provide teams a chance to limit touches inside the 3 pt line.
#2 Don't play zone because "We just can't guard them."
The hard part for me as a "Man guy" is the urge to "We'll have to go zone" after a defensive breakdown. Some coaches view playing zone as a failure; a last resort before forfeit. That mentality is way off. If and when you do play zone, your team's mentality is already set to a negative tone. What happens if they score on you in man to man, you angrily switch to zone and they score then to? I'd guess Coach Jim Boeheim doesn't go into recruiting or games with the mindset of I need to get and use guys that can't play man to man defense. Zone defense isn't accepting defeat...unless you already have.
#3 It's Not What You Do, It's How You Do It.
Utilizing a zone defense and using it to attack an offensive system has many benefits. Think boxing. A zone shouldn't be because you are backed in the corner protecting yourself. A zone can be a uppercut when used correctly.
This is my own personal philosophy on teaching a zone defense. Start with teaching full court man to man . As intense as possible. There will be a situation where you'll need this defense plus it makes for great game conditioning. Add players until you have progressed into 5 on 5 full court shell drill. Once you've established your full court defense, continue with pressure man in a half court setting. Teaching your players to sprint to help, being in position. Now work on a "sagging" man where you have ball pressure but still focus on your help. (Ex. Pack Line). Lastly, choose your zone alignment; 2-3, 3-2, or 1-3-1. Don't allow your players to relax. Keep the same intensity as if your in full court man! This formula has worked with our program.
Whatever defense you believe is the best for your team, I know and believe the key is in the presentation and passion you teach it with.