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GU playing statistics game

Gonzaga freshman David Pendergraft, shown here battling for a rebound against Santa Clara on Feb. 5, has graded consistently high in rebounding over the course of the season.
 (Brian Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)
Gonzaga freshman David Pendergraft, shown here battling for a rebound against Santa Clara on Feb. 5, has graded consistently high in rebounding over the course of the season. (Brian Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)

Number of points. Number of rebounds. Number of assists. Number of turnovers.

In most fantasy leagues, simple numbers work just fine. And they are usually enough to satisfy the curiosity of the average college basketball fan.

But at Gonzaga University, Bulldogs coach Mark Few wants to know more.

Much more.

Which is where Jerry Krause comes in.

Krause, who won 262 games during 17 seasons and two different stints as the head coach at Eastern Washington University, is in his fifth year as the Director of Men’s Basketball Operations at GU. He has written 27 books and produced 30 instructional videos on coaching basketball. And among his wide range of responsibilities at Gonzaga is that of providing Few with the more complex numbers he cherishes – numbers that relate directly to offensive and defensive efficiency, rebounding effort and defensive aggressiveness.

“Most statistics you have to be careful of, given just raw numbers,” said Krause, who charts various aspects of each game from the Bulldogs bench, “because they depend so much on the pace of the game. I’m more interested in percentages.”

Among the most important numbers Krause supplies are those relating to offensive and defensive efficiency. They are based on points per possession for both the Zags and their opponents.

“Those are what I really put a huge emphasis on at halftime or after a game,” Few said. “As much as points and field-goal percentages can tell you, they can get skewed with a lot of free throws and things like that. But points-per-possession gives you a much better gauge of where your team is at, both offensively and defensively.”

Few also puts plenty of weight on deflections, another number that does not show up in the box score. This number, according to Krause, is based on how many times a GU defender gets a hand, foot or any other body part on the basketball.

“It can be a blocked shot, diving on a loose ball – anything that disrupts the other team’s offense,” explained Krause, a long-standing member of the NCAA Rules Committee, who also serves as Research Chair of the National Association of Basketball Coaches. “I believe offense, basically, is rhythm. And anything you can do to upset rhythm is not good for an offense.”

In addition, the number of deflections gives Few a good idea of his team’s intensity level.

“It’s a great barometer for us,” he said. “When it’s up, it means we’re active, flying around and doing good things on the defensive end. When it’s down, it usually tells us we’re being too passive and reactive.”

Krause said this year’s team has been surprisingly sluggish, as far as deflections are concerned. The team goal is 35 deflections per game, but so far this season, the Zags are averaging just 27 – the exact number they had during Saturday’s harrowing 61-58 escape at Loyola Marymount.

“And that’s way below what you would want as a norm,” Krause said.

Deflections, like offensive and defensive percentages, can be charted during a game.

Rebounding effort, however, is a bit more complicated, and can only be determined after watching video of the game.

According to Krause, players are rated individually – at both ends of the floor – on how well they respond every time the ball goes up. On offense, he explained, one player is assigned to retreat to the defensive end as soon as the Bulldogs launch a shot.

“Our system tends to be more aggressive than most,” Krause contends. “We rebound four guys and send one back.”

The player designated to defend against the fast break must get to the center circle by the time the ball hits the rim and be in position to see the entire floor. The four rebounders are graded on how well they bounce into gaps.

“That means you don’t just lean on somebody trying to block you out,” Krause said. “You try to get to one side or the other and get around the block-out.”

On the defensive end, players are graded on how they react inside the free-throw circle arc.

“When the shot goes up, the first thing they have to do is make visual contact – whether we’re in a man or zone – to see if there is somebody in their area they are responsible for,” Krause explained. “And secondly, if someone comes within the arc, they have to make physical contact with that player.”

After that, each individual player is graded on how he pursues the rebound and how he protects the ball once he gets to it.

“Offensively or defensively, we want our guys to capture in with two hands and chin it,” Krause said, pulling both hand under his chin.

The grading system is simple. Do everything right or fail.

As an example, Krause pointed to the 94 percent rebounding effort J.P. Batista posted against Loyola Marymount, despite playing, perhaps, his worst overall game of the season.

“He was only in for 18 possessions,” Krause said of Batista, who, despite just relatively small number of possessions, went to the boards and did his job 17 times.

Freshman backup David Pendergraft, who has been one of the Zags’ most efficient rebounders all season, scored nearly as well, grading out at 90 percent.

“For a young player, that’s almost unbelievable,” Kraus said. “He’s the best freshman I can remember grading out. To put it in perspective, (fifth-year senior) Kyle Bankhead was over 95 percent last year, and we’ve never had anybody quite that high. But for a freshman to average over 90 percent means he’s really doing his job and he’s pretty conscientious.

“To rate that high, (rebounding) has to become almost an addictive habit. And that’s a good habit to have.”

After each game, Krause is also responsible for handing out letter grades to the team and to each individual player who participated. Grades are based on the ratio of positive points – awarded for such things as big baskets, rebounds, steals, assists and “Zag plays,” which are outstanding plays that can turn a game around – to the negative points assigned to turnovers, missed free throws and other general shortcomings.

Again, to put the grading system in perspective, Krause pointed out that sophomore point guard Derek Raivio, who has averaged an A throughout the season, graded out at a D- against LMU after making only one of nine field-goal attempts, scoring three points and committing three turnovers. Batista, who also normally grades out consistently high, was also given a D- after scoring three points and committing six turnovers in just 13 minutes of action.

In contrast, senior forward and co-captain Ronny Turiaf, who made six of eight field-goal tries and finished with 20 points, 11 rebounds and six blocked shots against the Lions, earned an A+ after posting 78 positive points to a mere 18 negative.

The grades, while helpful, are not as important to Few as the more immediate information Krause supplies.

“Deflections and points per possession mean the most to me,” Few said. “We get immediate feedback on those and we can respond accordingly.”

But no matter what the numbers Krause comes up with might mean, his value to the Bulldogs in terms of his experience and overall basketball savvy exceeds them all.

“He’s seen so many games,” Few said. “He can kind of take the emotion out of things and analyze them from a different perspective – even at halftime, or when he catches me with a suggestion during a timeout.

“He’s a great guy to have on your bench.”

And a great guy to have crunching the not-so-simple numbers every head coach needs to know.

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