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For once in Gonzaga's recent history, the team focus is defense

It sometimes is easy not to notice, but this is the best defensive Zags squad we've seen.

James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

The Gonzaga Bulldogs have generally been known for their offense, and rarely for their defense. Guard U was established as one of the better fast-paced offenses, often times with more than enough weapons to go around.

Defense, generally speaking, wasn't much of a thought, let alone an afterthought. The Zags have never been the most athletic team around. Teams generally could bury the three at will against Gonzaga. Occasionally there would be one Gonzaga player who could operate as a defensive stopper. The other four on the floor? Not so much. The overall game plan was the Adam Morrison defense, score more points than the person you are guarding.

Things have changed recently. In the past few years, Gonzaga slowly but surely started to improve on defense, while still maintaining their offensive ability.

Here are the Ken Pomeory metrics in offensive and defensive efficiency going back to 2002.

Year Off. Rating Def. Rating
2002 16 63
2003 20 86
2004 5 36
2005 8 132
2006 1 186
2007 34 94
2008 28 53
2009 9 37
2010 39 67
2011 42 51
2012 26 39
2013 2 37
2014 51 15
2015 6 30
2016 39 11

This year, eight games in, marks only the second year in 15 years the Bulldogs have had a higher defensive rating than offensive rating.

We've all noticed the offensive struggles the team has had. But what those are overshadowing are the fantastic defensive efforts that have even allowed Gonzaga to stay in many of the close games. If the Zags are going to succeed at all this season, they need to somehow maintain this focus and priority on defense, while hoping that the offensive slumps fade away into the sunset.

The Zags are holding opponents to 36.4 percent shooting. Good for No. 14 in the nation. Opponents have only hit 31 three pointers against Gonzaga, fourth-fewest in the nation. Opponents have only hit 23.8 percent of their threes, good for No. 4 in the nation. Only one opponent, Texas A&M, has had anything resembling a decent shooting night where they shot 44.7 percent. For all other opponents, it's downhill after that.

The one stat that really leaps out is that Gonzaga opponents average just 8.37 of assists per game. The Zags clog the passing lane and make it rather miserable for opponents to get any sort of rhythm going.

Interestingly enough, the Zags are doing this with the old fashioned way of hustle and grit. As a team, Gonzaga has blocked 20 shots, only No. 269 in the nation. They don't necessarily excel at forcing turnovers, just placing hands in the face of every shooter they see. Even more impressive is the fact that these numbers come with the team's defensive game changer, Przemek Karnowski, missing three games already.

We need every bit of hustle on defense as we can muster, because offensively, this team needs a lot of work to become effective. Only Kyle Wiltjer and Domantas Sabonis have offensive ratings above 100 according to Ken Pomeroy (although the rest of the team is generally in the 90s, except Josh Perkins at 87). Compared to last year's team, it is a big departure. Pangos ran a offensive rating of 130, Wiltjer's was 128.2, Wesley's was 111, Karnowski's was 110.5, Sabonis was 118.5, Kyle Dranginis was 119.7 and Gary Bell's was 114. Last year, offensively, we were more than spoiled.

For now, the hope is that the Zags' defense can bolster the team and keep them afloat while people not named Wiltjer and Sabonis figure out what is ailing them. Because otherwise, if the defense staggers a bit, the Zags might not have the firepower to keep up.