Twenty-one games don’t represent a full season, but it’s enough of a sample size to indicate significant trends.
Like the one that Gonzaga can flat score the ball.
The fourth-ranked Zags (19-2) are on pace to rewrite the program’s offensive record book, even with a slight dip in the numbers since the start of West Coast Conference play.
The Zags have long been known for their work at the offensive end, but they’re in uncharted territory in four categories.
• Their 91.4 scoring average is well ahead of 2018’s 83.5, 2017’s 82.6 and 2001’s 82.4 as the best in their 20-year NCAA Tournament run.
• Their 52.4 field-goal percentage is in front of the 2015 team’s 52.0 percent, one of five squads since 1999 that made at least half of its shots.
• Their 18.8 assists are solidly at the top, ahead of the 2004 Zags’ 17.9, the only other team above 17 since 1999.
• Their 126.5 adjusted offensive efficiency is the program’s highest since Ken Pomeroy started crunching numbers in 2002. Only Villanova (127.8) last season and Wisconsin (129.0) in 2015 have finished a season with a higher figure. Gonzaga’s previous best was 121.7 in 2015.
“This team has the ability to score from every position,” assistant coach Tommy Lloyd said. “They can score at the rim, in transition, 3s. The bigs can drive, play off pick-and-rolls, can play over the top and catch lobs. We kind of take for granted how fast we can play, because our bigs can literally rebound and push the ball on the break.”
It’s necessary to mention that rule changes within the past five seasons have made college basketball more offensive-minded. The shot clock was reduced from 35 seconds to 30. Freedom of movement, with the crackdown on hand-checking and redirecting cutters, is certainly a factor.
It’s probably no coincidence that four of Gonzaga’s best offenses statistically have come since 2015. Then again, it’s no coincidence that three of those teams probably rank with the best Gonzaga has put on the floor.
Off the top of his head, Lloyd pointed out several strong offensive crews during his 19 years at Gonzaga. The 2004 squad, with senior point guard Blake Stepp, bigs Ronny Turiaf and Cory Violette, and freshman wing Adam Morrison, put up strong numbers: 81.8 points per game on 50.9-percent shooting and a 120.8 KenPom rating.
“Blake running the show, a bunch of big guys and able to surround them with guys that could shoot and make good decisions,” Lloyd said.
GU offenses in Morrison’s sophomore and junior seasons were potent. Morrison averaged 19 points as sophomore with Turiaf, Derek Raivio and J.P. Batista all in double figures. Morrison led the nation at 28.1 points per game in 2006 with Batista at 19.3.
“That (2006) team could win games with their offense,” Lloyd said.
The 2007 Zags didn’t necessarily dominate on offense, but the Raivio-led squad adjusted following the suspension of Josh Heytvelt, adding key pages to the playbook.
“That was the first time we got into the ball-screen stuff,” Lloyd said. “It was kind of a more free-flowing deal, maybe the initial step to where we’ve evolved to today.”
The 2009 Zags had quality offensive pieces with six players – Heytvelt, Matt Bouldin, Austin Daye, Jeremy Pargo, Micah Downs and Steven Gray – averaging between 9 and 15 points.
The recent run of teams ranks high in terms of points and wins. The 32-win 2013 team with Kelly Olynyk, Elias Harris, Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell Jr. posted a 120.5 efficiency rating. The 2015 Zags, who won 35 games, had multiple weapons in Kyle Wiltjer, Przemek Karnowski, Byron Wesley, Pangos, Bell and freshman Domantas Sabonis.
The 2017 team that captured 37 wins and reached the national title game was efficient with bigs Karnowski, Johnathan Williams and Zach Collins, and guards Nigel Williams-Goss, Jordan Mathews, Josh Perkins and Silas Melson.
“That was more in your face, playing through Przem and Z-bo (Collins), pounding it into the block and they were good at playing out of double teams,” Lloyd said. “Nigel was a legitimate finisher and floater type guy, and shooters in Mathews and Perkins.”
Last year’s record 83.5 points per game might only stand for one season.
“All those numbers are big-time and it speaks to the coaches and the system we have here,” Perkins said. “The big difference this year is we’re loaded at every piece. It’s not just one through five, it’s the people coming in.
“You don’t have any drop off at all. We have a full essence of a team, and it shows in the stats and it’s been showing on the scoreboard.”
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