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Gonzaga Basketball
Sports >  Gonzaga basketball

Numbers are adding up for No. 1 Gonzaga, but more data is needed

Gonzaga head coach Mark Few draws up a play during a timeout in a game at Portland on Jan. 9.  (Associated Press)
Gonzaga head coach Mark Few draws up a play during a timeout in a game at Portland on Jan. 9. (Associated Press)

Ken Pomeroy’s website is a frequent destination for college basketball coaches, players, fans and media who want to take a deeper dive beyond statistics.

Gonzaga is No. 1 in Kenpom.com’s metrics with numbers rarely seen since his site debuted in 2002, with data dating back to 1997. The Zags are first in adjusted offensive efficiency and 10th in adjusted defensive efficiency.

They’re No. 1 in adjusted efficiency margin, checking in at 37.18, narrowly ahead of 2015 Kentucky’s 36.91, the highest season-ending mark in Kenpom’s ratings. Gonzaga’s 4.16 edge over No. 2 Michigan is third behind Ohio State’s 5.05 gap over Duke in 2011 and Villanova’s 4.23 edge over Virginia in 2018.

Pomeroy is duly impressed, but said it would be premature to label the Zags a team for the ages with their most important games left to play.

“Certainly their rating is pretty good relative to the teams since I’ve been doing this,” he said.

“It’s also easy to have a good rating to this point of the season. Others have had a good rating and it invariably falls when they play in their conference tournament and NCAA Tournament.

“It’s significant (GU’s adjusted efficiency margin), they’re obviously a very good team, probably better than a top team in a given season. If their rating is at that level a month from now, then we can firm up the case for them being a generational team. They have that potential, but it’s easier to rack up that rating over a shorter time frame than a longer one.”

Rankings, statistics, results, analytics and national awards lists indicate just how good Gonzaga has been through the regular season. The Zags (24-0) completed the first unbeaten regular season in Division I since Kentucky in 2015.

Gonzaga averages 92.9 points, the most in Division I since Virginia Military Institute put up 95.6 in 2007. Among power conference programs, Kansas averaged 90.1 in 2002, national champion North Carolina 89.1 in 2009 and TCU 92.0 and national champion Duke 90.7 in 2001.

The Zags connect on 55.3% of their shots, the highest since 1989 national champion Michigan made 56.6%, according to ESPN stats and info. The Zags hit 64.4% on 2-pointers, on pace to break Princeton’s existing record of 63.3% in 1977.

That 2-point percentage helps explain Gonzaga’s 126.0 offensive efficiency rating in Kenpom. The 2019 Zags hold the program’s highest season-ending mark at 124.5.

Gonzaga has been held below 50% shooting just three times, the lowest being 49.2% against BYU and Pacific.

One of the best signs for Gonzaga is that some of its best stats have come against its best opponents.

In five neutral-court wins over Kansas, Auburn, West Virginia, Iowa and Virginia, Gonzaga averaged 95.2 points, made 55.4% of its shots from the floor and 38.6% on 3-pointers while giving up 80.4 points.

In West Coast Conference play, the Bulldogs averaged 90.9 points, shot 55.1% and 37.2% beyond the arc, but their winning margin increased to 24.1 points.

Gonzaga ranks No. 1 in several analytics sites, including BartTorvik.com and Haslametrics.com. Evan Miyakawa is more of a newcomer to the analytics game, with his site debuting last year, but he also has Gonzaga in the top spot.

Corey Kispert, Drew Timme, Jalen Suggs and Joel Ayayi are 1-2-3-4 in Miyakawa’s player rankings, with Andrew Nembhard No. 6 and Anton Watson No. 30.

Baylor’s Jared Butler, Davion Mitchell and MaCio Teague are seventh, 10th and 11th, respectively.

“They have so many good players and that top four, top five is all contributing at a similar level,” said Miyakawa, a 26-year-old who is working on his Ph.D. in statistics at Baylor.

“My claim is not that they have five of the top six in the nation, but it speaks to how well-rounded Gonzaga is, and it doesn’t have to have a specific guy, like (Iowa’s) Luka Garza to be able to dominate.”

Timme ranks second behind Garza in Kenpom’s player of the year standings.

Miyakawa’s site evanmiya.com offers teammate chemistry rankings. The Kispert-Suggs combo leads Gonzaga, followed by Kispert-Ayayi, Suggs-Nembhard and Kispert-Timme.

In Miyakawa’s 20 bracket simulations, Gonzaga reaches the Final Four 13 times and wins the title nine times.

Pomeroy cautioned that it can be challenging to rank Gonzaga because it has dominated the WCC through the years.

“It’s hard to rate a team like them or Houston this year, he said. “They’re just way better than the competition in the conference, but Gonzaga played a difficult nonconference schedule and that helps. It gives me more confidence that their rating is more correct.”

There are no guarantees in March Madness, as the tournament proves every year.

National champs Villanova (2018) and Virginia (2019) finished No. 1 in Kenpom. The Zags, No. 1 in Kenpom in 2017, lost to No. 3 North Carolina in the championship game. The Zags were second in 2019 and fell to No. 5 Texas Tech in the Elite Eight.

Kentucky suffered its only loss in 2015 to Wisconsin in the Final Four. Connecticut, No. 15 in Kenpom, captured the 2014 title.

“Looking historically, teams that had a big gap (in adjusted efficiency margin), it’s kind of rare how often they win the national championship,” Pomeroy said.

“The top seven teams (this season), their offense is better than the national average by a greater amount than their defense, and those teams have been successful. It’s rare for a team to win it without a solid offense.”

Beyond Gonzaga’s figures on his popular website, the Zags pass Pomeroy’s eye test.

“I’ve seen Gonzaga a lot,” he said. “They look every bit as good as my ratings would indicate. I’m typically pretty skeptical of my own eye test, except in extreme cases, but it’s pretty consistent with what I see on the floor.”

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