The Pack Line Defense was created by coaching great Dick Bennett. Prior to coaching at University of Wisconsin and Washington State, Bennett won back-to-back DIII national championships at Wisconsin-Stevens Point.
Earlier yet, Bennett honed his Pack Line D by spending 10 years as a high school coach in Wisconsin where he actually coached my father’s team at Eau Claire Memorial. While Dick’s son, Tony Bennett, has taken over the ranks for his father as the nationwide Pack Line Aficionado, he was just the ball boy back in those days!
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Strengths of the Pack Line Defense
- Keeps your team in help position – EVERYONE is in help. This means you’ll need to make fewer rotations and hopefully give up fewer open shots. While many benefits will show up in the stat sheet, number of defensive rotations won’t but it’s benefit is tremendous!
- Prevents dribble drives – Driving lanes are thoroughly clogged up with all of your off-ball defenders starting and staying in help
- Reduces Fouls – By reducing the number of opponent dribble drives, you’ll also cut back on your team’s fouls. This can be especially advantageous if your bench isn’t particularly deep. Virginia (Tony Bennett’s team) consistently ranks in the top 10 in fewest fouls committed
- Lowers Opponent Free Throw Attempts – By reducing fouls, naturally you will also reduce your opponents free throw attempts
- Lowers Opponent Field Goal Percentage – Without much space to operate in the paint, your opponents should be forced into taking lower percentage jump shots
- Improves Rebounding – Having all of your players in or near the paint, your team can truly rebound as a team and not have to rely on one or two bigs to clean up the glass
Weaknesses of the Pack Line Defense
- Reduces Steal Opportunities – Unlike most defenses, your team won’t be in passing lanes which means you won’t have as many steals. While Virginia ranks in the top 10 in many defensive categories, they rank 127th in steals
- Reduces Transition Opportunities – Without steals your team also won’t have as many transition opportunities.
- Vulnerable Against Great Shooters – The pack line is designed to force contested jump shots with the intent that this is a lower percentage shot. For 95% of players this is true.
- Patient Opponents can find success – This is especially true if you’re playing in a league without a shot clock, (many states still do not have a shot clock in high school basketball)
Should My Team Play a Pack Line Defense?
This variation of man-to-man defense could be right for just about any team but you’ll want to be sure it aligns with your other coaching philosophies as well.
Historically, teams that play the pack are aiming for a more controlled pace (lower scoring) of play. When you aren’t blessed with the best athletes on your team, the pack helps slow down the other team’s offense by clogging up the paint and forcing jump shots.
With the exception of a few teams in each league, this might be your team.
Which Teams Should NOT Play a Pack Line Defense?
While any team can play pack line, it might be challenging for a team that plays many different defenses (2-3 zone, 1-3-1 one, 3-2 zone, man-to-man, full court press… etc.) to also play the pack line.
Because of the tweaks in a few key philosophies this may be challenging and ultimately ineffective, if the concepts are not fully grasped and executed by your team.
6 Principles of the Pack Line Defense
The four off-ball defenders are considered “the pack”. The pack should always be no more than 16-feet from the basket and ideally all have a foot in the paint. Instead of denying passing lanes like many man-to-man defenses, the goal of the pack is to deny driving lanes.
Despite the “pack” being one-foot-in-the-lane at all times, on-ball pressure is critical to this defenses success. Great ball pressure keeps the player with the ball from making hard, sharp passes to teammates that are one pass away and fairly open due to help defense.
Since all off-ball defenders are in help positions, they must closeout to their player each time they catch the ball. Working on closeouts is important in any defense but particularly important to the pack line.
Force Middle/No Baseline
Most traditional man-to-man defenses force ball handlers baseline. In the pack line defense, you’ll force middle because that is where your help is. In most situations a middle driver is stopped before ever making it to the paint AND without the need for a rotation from the defense. This is the greatest strength of the pack.
This is an area that is up to you and can be changed on a game-to-game basis. Since post defenders are always in help position either fronting or playing behind is okay.
The perks of playing in front are that if your team is undersized or the opponent has a great post player this will make it harder to get the ball to them. The benefit of playing behind is that you’re still in a good defensive position and you’re now in a great position to rebound. Fronting the post takes your players out of good rebounding position.
The goal of the Pack Line Defense is to get your opponent to take contested jump shots. The only way to end the possession is to finish with a rebound. Unlike high pressure, deny defenses your team likely won’t be forcing 20+ turnovers a game meaning that the importance of rebounding is amplified.
Because of the pack your team will be well positioned to rebound but, it ultimately comes down to effort and who wants to ball more. Make sure that it’s your team and immediately sub out players that aren’t making rebounding a priority.
Pack Line Defense Video Breakdown
Pack Line Defense Breakdown courtesy of Cornerstone Basketball:
Tony Bennett’s Pack Line Defense Complete Guide courtesy of Coachbase
Chris Mack Drills to Build the Pack Line Defense courtesy of ChampionshipProductions