One major criticism of zone defenses is that players ball-watch, while in man-defense, the argument is that players learn to watch the ball and the man.
I watched a college game tonight, and this argument is not valid. When a team plays a good zone defense, the players constantly look and talk to make sure that their teammates are aware of the offensive players. In good man defenses, the players talk and see cutters too.
The issue in terms of teaching defensive fundamentals is not man-defense vs. zone-defense. The issue is good defense vs. bad defense or well-taught defense vs. poorly-taught defense.
Zone defense itself is not a culprit of ball watching, as good zone defenders are very aware of cutters. Instead, it is poorly taught defense.
However, perception is often greater than reality. When we evaluate different aspects of basketball, we need more diligence. Rather than worry about man or zone, we need to encourage well-taught defensive fundamentals.
By Brian McCormick
Author, Cross Over: The New Model of Youth Basketball Development
Director of Coaching, Playmakers Basketball Development League