2015 March Madness: Spreading Out the Pack-Line Defense



As March Madness begins, I’ll be watching two styles of defenses that get a lot of attention – VCU’s Havoc and Virginia’s Pack-Line.  I respect the Havoc because our team’s offense has been fueled by a similar style, but I’m going to study the Pack-Line because it ultimately ended our season.  As we prepared to play the nation’s top Division III defense in Wisconsin-Stevens Point, we came up with some concepts of attack, but I didn’t do a good enough job preparing our team to face it – a mistake I don’t want to repeat. One important concept, spreading the defense out, is also a Biblical command.  So, let’s take a closer look.

BASKETBALL – Plan to Spread

The strength of any team can often be its undoing.  This year, our team was very good at scoring in transition and attacking the basket.  It was good enough for us to win our conference championship and to qualify for the NCAA Tournament, but moving forward, is it good enough for us when we face new defenses, like the Pack-Line, in the tournament?



Pack-Line teams may have different wrinkles, but most look to pressure the ball and force offensive players to drive into a pack of defenders.  They protect the basket, provide early help, and rebound at the expense of forcing steals and turnovers.  They also play physically on all cuts and screens, and often feel that opponents can’t consistently make enough three’s to beat them.  And many times, Pack-Line teams will also control the ball on offense and frequently minimize your possessions, so you have to be efficient on offense because you may not get as many chances to score as you’re used to!

After watching a lot of film and doing some research, here’s the basics of a plan of attack we presented to our team and we will use in the coming year (Click here for Attacking Pack-Line Defenses):

1.  Push it:  Attacking teams like ours have to beat the pack down the floor at every opportunity, on makes as well as misses.  We want our wings to sprint to deep corners and to cross under the basket whenever possible.

2.  Spread it:  We need to be determined to space the floor.  That means separating hard out of screens, finishing all basket cuts out to the perimeter, and responding to the pack’s focus on stopping the ball by moving.  Spacing requires movement. (For more ideas, check out last year’s article about the San Antonio Spurs use of spacing)

3.  Occupy it:  Flare screens and staggered screens away from the ball will confuse the help, while replacing screeners and drivers on the ball side will create opportunities to exploit the pack’s desire to stop drives.

4.  Read it:  Pack-Line teams often have different methods for defending screens, especially ball screens.  Ball-handlers must attack with a read mind-set looking for slips, pops, throwbacks, and opportunities to refuse a screen.  Isolation ball screens on the wing are a great way to read how the pack will defend.

5.  Shoot it:  The more shooters you have on the floor, the better.  Pack-Line defenses are often willing to give up a few three’s, so be ready to take advantage of open shots when you get them.

These are the basic ideas.  In addition, Rob Daust did a wonderful job of analyzing Virginia’s defense for CollegeBasketballTalk.com and has some great video clips to review. And as the tournament progresses, take the opportunity to watch how teams attack Pack-Line teams like Virginia, Arizona, and Xavier, as well as so many other  teams that incorporate a variety of pack-line concepts!

LIFE – Speak up and spread the word!

Are we really being tolerant of others when we stand by when people mistreat others or take advantage of situations for personal gain? Think about what we’ve seen in Ferguson, MO or what we see on a nightly basis from videos posted on social media. It seems that most people these days would rather stand by and watch (or record) immoral behavior, rather than step in to stop it.  Is that tolerance? That’s why I love this story about three middle school basketball players from my area:

Those boys went against a common trend these days to ignore such opportunities. Far too many of us keep our mouths closed in an attempt to avoid confrontation. Far too many of us are unwilling to stand up. Far too many of us sweep aside morals and values in order to stay politically correct or to appear that we are progressive in our attitudes.  Rather than spread out and influence our world. too many of us hunker down in the safety of the pack.

FAITH – Spread It!



The devil is very happy when we choose to pack it in. He wants nothing more than for Christians to close our minds, close our mouths, and hide ourselves away behind the safety of our church life.  Like a basketball team that doesn’t maintain spacing when facing a Pack-Line defense, Christians are playing into the devil’s hands when we don’t speak up in a world that needs to hear about Jesus.  In fact, God wants to use our lives, our actions, and are our words to spread His love like the sweet smell of victory:

But thanks be to God! For through what Christ has done, he has triumphed over us so that now wherever we go he uses us to tell others about the Lord and to spread the Gospel like a sweet perfume.  (2 Corinthians 2:14 TLB)

Don’t settle for isolating yourself when times are tough and the world is difficult.  Get a plan, stay active, and spread out to share His love.  And. enjoy the tournaments!


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