Long tenured coaches across the country all have their respective reputations. Tom Izzo is known for preaching toughness and has gone so far as to bring football pads to Spartans practices. Jim Boeheim in Syracuse will forever be known for his suffocating zone defense that he has seamlessly passed down from class to class. Mark Few at Gonzaga has been known for a lot of things. Developing under-the-radar players, fostering an incredible crop of point guard talent, and building the first 'true' mid-major power are all things he has on his resume in big bold letters. Defense, well, that has always been something that has been questioned at Gonzaga under Few. In John Gasaway's 'Tuesday Truths', the outstanding basketball mind explains how this years Gonzaga defense has dominated the West Coast Conference.
Gasaway lays out a quick statistical look at how this team ranks in conference across many different categories:
These ranks are based just on WCC play but their statistics have been similarly solid throughout the duration of the season. One of the most impressive stats from this analysis is the fact that Gonzaga is scoring 1.12 points per possession in conference play and giving up just 0.93. This is about a 0.2 delta which is clearly the top in the conference. Where Gonzaga has faltered in the past, they are starting to clean up. This is no more apparent than in 3-point defense. They are allowing conference opponents to shoot just north of 30% from deep.
Six games are averaging roughly a steal per game led by David Stockton and Kyle Dranginis who are both averaging over 1 per game. Dranginis has been a revelation defensively and the rest of his bench mates, most notably Gerard Coleman and Angel Nunez have been relentless on the perimeter and use their length to contest shots that previous teams wouldn't have had a chance at. Gary Bell is still this team's defensive star but the disparity between he and the rest of his backcourt teammates is no longer as pronounced.
In the middle, it has truly been the Przemek Karnowski show but Sam Dower has also made remarkable strides. Even when looking at last season, Dower has dedicated himself to being more physical and he no longer has to be hidden on that side of the court. While Karnowski may not be the consistent offensive threat yet, no player has improved more this season defensively. At the start of the season, many were legitimately concerned he would foul out every game but since Maui, he has been a totally different player. He's averaging 7 rebounds and 2 blocks per game and just 3 fouls per contest.
Saturday's game against Memphis should be a great barometer for where this team really stands on the defensive end. The Zags now have some length to match up with the Tigers but it will be intriguing to see how Karnowski and Sam defend the athletic Tigers and if Kevin Pangos and David Stockton can compensate for their size disadvantage.