The Pack Line defense is a half court defensive system that literally packs the middle of the paint to make it difficult to score inside. Developed by legendary coach Dick Bennett, he used it the 90’s with great success to lead his underdog Green Bay and Wisconsin teams to success against much more talented NCAA powerhouses. Today in the NCAA we see the pack line employed by his son, Tony Bennett, where he’s perfected it whilst coaching at Virginia- accolades including being regarded as the best defensive coach by his peers in 2015.
The pack line is an imaginary line that is 2 feet within the 3 point line. It forces opponents to take perimeter shots and is especially effective against offenses based on dribble penetrations or low post play. The reality of the school and even some college teams is that they’re not filled with knockdown shooters- this defense is good enough to stop 1-2 key sharpshooters with the huge boost of protecting your paint.
Advantages of pack line defense
- Force outside shots and reduce shots inside paint
- Make it difficult to score low post
- Effective against dribble penetration
Disadvantages of pack line defense
- Can be exploited by elite outside shooting.
- Requires great closeouts
- Requires great team work
The pack line’s system revolves around how it guards the post. As such, this defense is perfect for small teams having trouble guarding the post. First, you don’t want the post player to receive the ball inside the post box.
Low post defense key points:
- Keep players out of post box
- Use the arm bar to push your man out
- 3/4 high deny when ball is above free throw
- Full deny below free throw
You must use your arm to push the player outside of the post box. Use a clenched fist arm bar to push his man out of the “Post Box”. Second, you want to deny the ball high and force the post to receive the ball closer to the baseline. Post defender should be positioned 3⁄4 on the high side when the ball is above the free throw line and move to complete front if ball is below free throw line.
That is also why in the pack line, you always force the offense middle and not give up the baseline. If they dribbler attacks baseline, they can pass to the low post easily.
You don’t want the post player to receive the ball near the middle of the basket so you cannot let the ball come from the top directly.
If the post receives the ball, you must “choke” (double team) them immediately. The help defenders must immediately back off and wall up.
2. On ball defense
The defender on the ball handler must apply ball pressure. The on ball defender doesn’t need to stay inside the pack area, their job is to pressure the ball handler meaning get close. The only rule here is that the defender cannot be beat in a straight line, if they do then there’s no help available.
3. Off ball defense positioning
Positioning key points:
- Must be inside pack area
- Should be around half way between ball and your man
- Already be in help position
- Always be in a low defensive stance. No standing tall.
Pack line is a gap defensive system, the gap meaning the distance between 2 defenders. The wider the gap, the more space there is for dribble penetration. The key point is to already be in the help position and “close the gap” in the pack line system.
Unlike most defenses, the help is coming from the strong side. This creates lots of closeout opportunities and is one of the weaknesses of the system. So it’s paramount your players closeout well.
Closeout key points
- Move on flight of the ball
- short choppy steps
- high hands and then settle into your stance
- must not allow shots in rhythm
- level off the dribbler by getting him going east-west
- take away the north-south direct drive
- bother the shooter (hands in face, etc…)
3 types of closeouts:
- Pure shooter (Kyle Korver) – close out close.
- Dribble penetrator (Rajon Rondo) – keep distance in closeout.
- Both (Kobe) – 1 arm’s distance.
Since this defense relies so much on team work, it is paramount your players communicate.
Vocal communication responsibilities (shout these words out while defending):
A. Ball— this call means I have the player
B. Gap- this call means my player does not have the ball but I am in your dribble GAP
C. Help- this call means my players does not have the ball but am on the opposite half of the court than the ball is
5. Transition defense
“Always take a guy out if he loafs back during a game” – Dick Bennett
First rule is to get all 5 players below the ball, all players must sprint back. This is non negotiable. Then someone must apply ball pressure to the ball handler. The other players should also load to the ball, meaning if your player hasn’t crossed the half court line then stay high and help apply ball pressure on ball handler.
6. Screens and cutters
“If you touch the guy at all times, you will not get screened.” – Dick Bennett
Defenders of the screener should be help position (in the direction of the cutter) but must stay attached to their defender at all times. Bennett doesn’t like switching because he feels that the more you allow switching, the more it will handicap your team late in the season. Switching only works for teams that are experienced and have roughly equally talented players. When a cutter cuts, make sure your players tap the player and stay in contact throughout the pack area.
If you want to use the pack line defense, you can find 10 pack line defense drills here.
If you want to force outside shots and if your team is short, this might be a good defensive system. It’ll require alot of teamwork but has been proven to work.