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Gonzaga's transition offense is some of the best in the nation

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Opposing teams can stop one player when they run the floor, but how can you stop an entire team?

Danny Wild-USA TODAY Sports

There is a lot going right for the Gonzaga Bulldogs at the moment. They are ranked No. 3 in both the AP and coaches poll. If those voting polls aren't up your wheelhouse, then take a look at Ken Pomeroy's site. He ranks the Bulldogs at No. 3 as well.

The rise in the rankings corresponds with the Zags doing something they normally don't do most years - actually taking care of WCC competition the way they are supposed to.

As good as Gonzaga's defense has been as of late, the offense has been humming along perfectly. One of the more impressive areas it is humming along is in the transition offense. That offense, where the entire team is running down the court, results in plays that look a lot like this.

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Did you catch that? That was three passes in four seconds off of a rebound. Here is a closer look.

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Gonzaga's team is primed to be able to run the floor. The bigs are more lean than they are wide, so Kyle Wiltjer and Domantas Sabonis can be matchup nightmares for their opponents when the fast break hits. It isn't even the drives to the hoop that can cause opponent's fits either. Gonzaga, as a team, has enough pure shooters hanging out on the wings that you can't expect every ball to go to the hoop. Kevin Pangos or Gary Bell might just decide to huck up and drain a three instead.

Take this table, which shows the ten best offenses in the nation according to Ken Pomeroy.

1 Notre Dame
2 Duke
3 Wisconsin
4 Gonzaga
5 Davidson
6 Virginia
7 Villanova
8 Xavier
9 BYU
10 Iona

Now let's break it down even further. According to Hoop-Math.com, this is each team's effective field goal percentage on first shot attempts coming within 10 seconds of getting the ball (e.g. a defensive rebound, steal, etc).


rebound opp score steal transition
Notre Dame 61.5 70.0 79.1 68.4
Duke 62.0 47.0 73.8 63.4
Wisconsin 59.1 81.8 67.9 63.8
Gonzaga 64.3 76.8 59.8 65.6
Davidson 57.1 57.9 69.1 59.5
Virginia 66.3 50.0 81.2 70.2
Villanova 68.9 59.3 59.6 63.5
Xavier 60.4 47.4 66.7 59.7
BYU 54.8 47.4 75.2 58.4
Iona 51.8 67.3 62.3 59.1

This is important because 29.3 percent of Gonzaga’s initial attempts on a possession come in transition, according to Hoop-Math.com (transition shots are defined as coming with 10 seconds after a steal, defensive rebound, or opponent score). So already, we have Gonzaga as one of the better shooting teams in transition. Again, all stats come from Hoop-Math.com, and the first column refers to the percentage of initial attempts from a team that come in transition.

transition % % shots at rim FG% at rim % 2 pt jumpers FG% 2 pt jumpers % 3pt FG% 3 pt
Notre Dame 28.9 55.9 76.6 9.0 72.7 35.1 36.0
Duke 26.2 50.5 78.1 9.5 44.4 40.0 32.9
Wisconsin 17.3 54.6 71.8 9.2 41.7 36.2 38.2
Gonzaga 29.3 49.6 70.8 15.4 40.0 35.1 46.2
Davidson 26.1 42.1 64.6 9.7 47.4 48.2 38.3
Virginia 13.5 67.9 71.9 7.1 50.0 25.0 47.6
Villanova 22.8 58.6 70.6 13.2 43.5 28.2 38.8
Xavier 27.5 61.1 68.2 13.9 40.0 25.0 33.3
BYU 37.3 33.2 76.6 27.1 41.6 39.7 36.5
Iona 38.4 49.5 55.7 13.0 20.5 37.5 51.3

As the tables show, Gonzaga is one of the most dangerous teams out in transition. Virginia does it at a more effective rate, but Virginia also doesn't rely on transition offense. Gonzaga, like Notre Dame, wants to punish an opponent's mistake. Gonzaga is also one of the most dangerous teams because of its ability to shoot the ball. BYU may run the ball more, but they don't do as good of a job of scoring in the process. Gonzaga mixes it up equally between drives to the rim and shots from the outside -- and the big difference between them and everyone else is that they hit those shots.

The extra dangerous thing about it all is planning a run and gun game versus Gonzaga just isn't the game plan for opposing coaches. Gonzaga's adjusted tempo is 65.9, per Ken Pomeroy, is good for 155th in the nation. Compare that to Iona at 72.5 (No. 6) and BYU at 70.9 (No. 12). Opposing coaches in to those squads know those teams like to run. Gonzaga doesn't necessarily sprint down the court, but when they do they burn the opposition.

Much of that doesn't come from an overall focus on aggressive defense, more as it is just solid defense. Gonzaga has 111 steals as a team, good for No. 112 in the nation. It is their overall defense on the floor, the one that clogs passing lanes and denies open looks that charges this transition offense. Opposing teams hit just 38.4 percent of their field goal shots against the Zags, and Gonzaga cleans up on the defensive boards. Their 473 defensive rebounds as a team are eighth in the nation.

All of this adds up to a problem for opposing coaches and a dangerous weapon for the Zags. Gonzaga is more than happy to hang around and play that half court game with the kids, but they have the weapons to turn it into a 100-meter dash with the best of them. How opposing coaches can plan around this team, I have no idea.