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Gonzaga joins expanding analytics trend

You don’t need a bunch of numbers to understand that Gonzaga has a pretty good basketball team. The eye test confirms as much.

But it doesn’t hurt to have statistical data to reinforce the notion. Advancements in technology put detailed stats, figures, breakdowns, spreadsheets, percentages and video clips just a few seconds and a few keystrokes away.

The third-ranked Zags use them. More than 300 Division I programs use Synergy, according to the sports technology company’s Website. Analytics have become a staple in the sports world, dispensing user-friendly information to anyone willing to pay a subscription fee.

No. 1 Kentucky appointed a director of analytics in August. Duke hired NTT DATA to build a specialized analytics system. Kenpom.com is a popular analytics Website for teams and fans.

Gonzaga has been crunching numbers for years, led by director of operations Jerry Krause.

“He was a frontrunner in the points per possession (stats) and we’ve always analyzed our offensive and defensive numbers,” coach Mark Few said. “We’ve always done it, just in our own way, but now you can really chew on some things.”

The Zags subscribe to Synergy and DVSport, the latter tailors stats specific to GU’s program. The range and depth of information is impressive. John Jakus, co-director of operations, in seconds brought up a detailed stats page on Kevin Pangos. The senior guard’s scoring average is slightly down compared to other seasons, but his efficiency rates are through the roof.

Jakus, coaches and players can watch 100 video clips on Synergy of Saint Mary’s center Brad Waldow operating on the left block or the right block. They can access information at work, home, in the locker room, anywhere with a wireless connection. Players can see what sets are working, where their shots are coming from and not only gauge the effectiveness of the pick-and-roll, but how many times the guard hits the roller and the percentage of times it results in points.

Players can scope out an opponent, see how he defends ball screens or how he uses ball screens.

“I find it so fascinating. It’s a different aspect you can learn from,” said Pangos, who rarely paid attention to analytics before this season. “I use it maybe once, twice a week. We’ve done a lot on how the other team is guarding ball screens because I’m in a lot of ball screens.”

Information gleaned by Krause, Jakus, video coordinator Mike Hart and assistant video coordinator Ricardo Fois typically results in a postgame report and a pregame report, with video clips, on the next opponent. They share it with the coaching staff, but it’s up to the coach to decide how much or how little they want to include in their scouting reports.

“Coach Few won 400 games without this,” Jakus said. “It’s still just basketball and this is just the little details to make sure we’re doing everything we can.”

Of course, opponents have access to the same analytical sources to zero in on Gonzaga.

“There comes a point in conference where they know all our sets and we know all of theirs,” Jakus said of his days at Baylor. “That’s where the understanding of your guys and putting them in scenarios after a set doesn’t work or playing through post touches against certain teams … it’s finding those things and picking on them becomes more important.”

Few said he’s still a “feel coach, but I think we’ve come to understand (analytics) and use it more and more. John has done a great job of breaking things down and giving us numbers that I can absorb and the assistants and the players can absorb. It’s not foolproof. Stats, we all know, can be fuzzy at times and there are a lot of gray areas in basketball and that’s where the feel part comes in.”

Jakus coached high school basketball before joining Athletes in Action as a coach on overseas tours. He was coaching a pro team in Macedonia when his son was diagnosed with autism. Jakus took a job at Baylor, primarily because the school had an autism program.

Jakus immersed himself in analytics at Baylor to “give myself some kind of a skill set to make myself more valuable. I think it’s more commonplace that people are relying on stats, but we don’t rely on it here. We use it here.”

There’s a reason for that, Jakus noted.

“The coaches still make decisions with their eyes and what happens in the game,” he said. “In the middle of the game, we’re not pulling out a piece of paper and saying, ‘Hey, remember this.’

“The priority is the players and how they play. This should be a reflection of Coach Few’s culture and not just a bunch of numbers on a sheet. It should almost be a narrative that reflects our goals.”


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