Defensive alignments are commonly referred to by a numbering scheme which indicates how many defenders are playing close to the 6 meter line and how many defenders are playing 2-3 meters above the arc.
6-0 Defense: This is the basic defensive scheme, on which the other alignments are based. There are 2 variants:
- The classic 6-0: Used by most teams in the 70s and the 80s. The 6 players move along the line (using side steps) along with the ball and remain rather passive, unless a defender needs to prevent his opponent from penetrating the defense or to block a shot.
- The modern 6-0: Based on the classic version. However, along with the ball movement, defenders move forward to the 9m line to disturb their respective opponent. When the ball is passed along, the defender will move back again to the 6m line, while another defender moves forward to meet the new ball handler. As the ball moves from left to right and back again, the defense moves in a wave pattern to meet the threat. The modern 6-0 is widely used in handball, mostly by European teams that can rely on the height of their players to block shots by opposing backs.
5-1 Defense: In this defense, 5 defenders stay near the 6 meter arc, while one defender stays higher, usually near the 9 meter arc. Typically, this point defender is in the center and seeks to disrupt the backcourt offensive players
3-2-1 Defense: Similar to the 5-1 defense, except that the two players defending the left and right backcourt are also extended further from the 6 meter at typically 7.5 meters so they are more ready to defend against back court jumpshots. (i.e. 3 players are essentially on the 6 meter line, 2 players are at roughly 7.5 meters and 1 player is at 9 meteres; hence 3-2-1). As offensive players move from side to side, defenders will stay with the attacking offensive players longer than they would in a 6-0 defense. This is because the uneven level of the defense makes the transfer of responsibilty more challenging as there is more open space between the defenders. The advantage of this defense is that jumpshots at 9 or 10 meters are more closely defended. The disadvantage of this defense is that the openness of the defense makes it more prone for breakthroughs and it is also more physically demanding. This defense is often used by teams that are shorter and/or quicker than their opponents.
4-2 Defense: Similar to the 5-1 defense, except that two players stay at the 9m line, usually defending against the right and left back. Rarely used.
Marking: Similar to the 5-1 defense, except the point defender plays man to man against a specific player. This is similar to a “box-1” defense in basketball and is usually done against a team in which one player is doing most of the scoring. In some instances, the marked player on offense will stand at about 12 meters and let his team play 5 on 5. The logic being that 5 on 5 is a significant advantage for the offense as each defensive player has more space around the arc to cover. Marking can also be done on 2 players with the result being similar to a 4-2.
Man-to-Man: A basketball style man-to-man defense, in which each defender is assigned a particular player to guard, is sometimes used as a last resort in the waning minutes of play during a close game.