Man-to-Man Plays

Summary: The following three quick hitters can be used against a man to man defense. They begin out of a formation commonly called ‘Horns’ or ‘A-Set’. These plays work well in combination with each other because they start our very similar but end with different players getting open looks.

Why should you use these plays?

  • You want to get your better players the majority of your shots.
  • You are undersized and don’t have true post up threat.
  • You have smart players who can recognize defensive mistakes.
  • You play against teams that almost always use a half court man to man defense.
  • You want to be able to end a scoring drought with an easy basket.
  • The Horns set up is growing in popularity at the NBA and collegiate levels

What are some challenges when implementing these plays?

  • Depending on what level you coach, implementing plays that start the same, but end differently could be a challenge. Younger players may get them confused and not execute the play correctly.
  • As with many set plays, when players are first learning them, they will run them robotically rather than simply seeing what the defense is giving them and making a good decision based off what they are given.
  • If you are a coach that prefers a free flowing offense, implementing three quick hitters may not be the most valuable use of your practice time.
  • If you are a coach who would like more of a ball control offense, quick hitters may not be your favorite thing.

Key Coaching Points

As a coach, these how much time you spend on these plays is totally up to you. The day before a game is a great time to review these plays in order to make sure that we are running them correctly. If you have scouted your opponent, you may have a good idea of which one of these plays to call more often than others. As with any set play, you must remind your players that if they see an opportunity to score, they must take it, no matter what the play call is. In practice, make sure to run plays in both directions so that players understand what happens if they are on the weak side of the play.

Player Roles

  1. Point Guard: If you have a great point guard these sets are great because his decision making skills will make sure they succeed. As long as he is making the right choice about when and where to start the offense, you should be okay. It is an added benefit if he is a good screener as some of the plays ask that he sets a pin down screen. Some point guards have not been asked to do this much in their careers. Make sure they can.
  2. Shooting Guard: The best shooter or overall player on your team should likely be set up in the right corner to start. Each of these three quick hitters gives them an opportunity to make a shot or create for a teammate.
  3. Small Forward: Your second best shooter should start in the left corner. We can initiate the same play to either side as needed. Often times, we may simply go with the player who has the better defensive matchup.
  4. Power Forward: This player does not have to be a traditional big. They must be able to set good screens and make passes in tight quarters. They will start in the high post on an elbow. If they can step out and hit a three, that is a bonus, but not necessarily a requirement.
  5. Center: The same as the power forward. Decision making and passing are their best attributes.

Coaches Quote: Bob Knight once said, “Two keys to being effective with the ball are the shot fake and the pass fake.” In this offense, your players in the 4 and 5 spots need to know how to use those effectively because they will open up opportunities for themselves and others.


We call this one Iverson because it features a cut made popular by Allen Iverson. If your players have not seen much of him, please show them. As good as he was at handling the ball, this simple cut freed him up to make many open shots in his prime. This play is designed to get your best player the ball with an advantage. It is a cut that any player can learn to master. In fact, you can set up simple 1 v. 1 competitions in practice with cones for screeners. This way your players can see that the first man to make a catch on the wing has a great chance to score and make a play.

An Iverson cut starts the play and the first player to catch always has the opportunity to rip through and drive to the rim or simply shoot if he’s left open.

Option 2 is point guard cutting to the rim. Option 3 is the screener popping out for three.

Option 4 is a a high low pass to 5 if they have sealed into post position. Option 5 is a ball reversal to 1 through an elevator screen .If 1 makes this catch without a shot, he can get a step up screen from 3.


This particular play is called Spartan because Michigan State runs it quite a bit versus man to man defense. It starts out from the same set up as previous, but the options that build off of it, allow for more scoring from your big men.

Your point guard can initiate this offense to either side to start the play. He follows his pass with a cut down the middle. We do leave him the option to keep this cut going to the rim only if his defender has completely fallen asleep. Normally he stops short and sets a back screen for the weakside big man.

The first time you run this you will most likely get a defense switching and the high low pass from 5 to 4 will be open. Because defenders are taught to protect the rim, they are usually in bad position to defend against a screen set by 1. If we cannot get the ball to 4, we can also get a layup from 2 on a backdoor cut.

Those players wait on the low blocks and set a double stagger screen for the wing in the corner. Meanwhile 5 passes to 1 and sets a third screen for three to run through. Obviously if 3 is a good shooter, defenders will be stuck to him and curling to the rim becomes an option, as does fading to the corner or simply shooting a three from the wing.


Brad Stevens has used this set since he was at Butler and the Celtics run this with great success. Between dribble handoffs, backscreens and flex screens, the opportunity for easy baskets are plentiful.

Play starts with a dribble handoff between 1 and 4. If four can shoot a three he may do so here, but usually it is well defended unless you are running right into this set from a fast break situation.

1 continues to curl off 5’s backscreen for a layup if possible. This might be there the first few times you run this play and then defenses will wise up to it and prevent the easy score.