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The Zags are getting killed on the defensive boards

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Something is going on, and the coaching staff better figure it out sooner than later.

NCAA Basketball: Gonzaga vs Arizona Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

The Gonzaga Bulldogs are 10-0 for the first time in school history since joining Division I ball. Everything seems to be rolling pretty nicely along in Spokane. The Zags are clicking on most of their cylinders. Przemek Karnowski is fully healthy, the freshmen in Collins and Tillie are showing promise, and the rest of the newcomers appear to be playing better with each other every game.

I say most cylinders, because if there is one arena the Zags are falling absolutely flat in right now, it is defensive rebounding. There isn’t a single way to sugarcoat this fact: the Zags have been atrocious at attacking the defensive glass.

The numbers speak for themselves. In seven of Gonzaga’s 10 games, opponents have snared double-digit offensive rebounds. Five of the last six games have been particularly terrible. Florida had 14, Iowa State had 12, Arizona had 13, Washington had 26 (!!!) and Akron had 14.

Seriously, what in the world is going on here?

Right off the bat, you would think part of this increased total can be attributed to Gonzaga’s defensive prowess. The Zags’ defense is holding opponents’ eFG to 40.7 percent, fifth best in the nation. You would think by default that if opponents are missing more of their shots, then that leaves more opportunities for offensive rebounds. This line of thinking isn’t correct, however. Here are the top 10 defenses according to eFG%, and here are how many offensive rebounds they give up.

Team Def. eFG% Def OR% # Given Up
Central Florida 36.2 24.3 92
South Carolina 38.7 27.9 81
Minnesota 40 28.6 130
Wichita State 40.5 23.2 98
Gonzaga 40.7 32.9 143
Miami 40.8 29.2 105
Louisville 40.8 29.6 120
Virginia 41.3 23.8 71
Indiana 41.7 25.9 101
California 41.7 20.1 78

To put that number of 143 into brutal perspective, that ranks No. 345 in all of college basketball. For a team that boasts the height and athleticism down low the Zags do, that number is pretty much inexcusable.

How is it happening? Here is a pretty standard example, as seen by the Washington Huskies.

And here is example two, as seen by the Arizona Wildcats.

In both examples, there are a horde of issues going on, but a lot of it stems from the Zags just staring at the ball and hoping it falls into their hands. In the first example against Washington, the Zags had three players directly underneath the hoop. Killian Tillie has the length to compete with any of the Huskies, and instead of trying to box out or establish any position, his head is cranked towards the direction of the sun.

In the second example against the Wildcats, Przemek Karnowski gets pushed out of the photo on Lauri Markkanen’s drive, but Karnowski never tries to re-establish his positioning at all. Instead, you have Silas Melson and Josh Perkins battling for the ball, while Karnowski is standing on the outside as if he is waiting for the bus.

This problem has nearly knocked the Zags off already this season. Against Florida, the Zags found themselves down 37-32 at half. Thirteen of Florida’s points in the first half of that game came from second chance points. Against Akron, with the Gonzaga offense completely flat in the first half, the Zips were able to stay in the game by scoring 11 second chance points in the first half.

The interesting thing here is that the Zags have always been a pretty decent rebounding team. Here are the defensive OR% for the past few years, and how that ranks nationally:

  • 2015-16: 26.0 (37)
  • 2014-15: 28.0 (43)
  • 2013-14: 29.5 (89)
  • 2012-13: 29.8 (86)
  • 2011-12: 28.3 (40)

From 2014-16, the Zags were a much better defensive rebounding team solely from Domantas Sabonis. Remember, Sabonis finished No. 8 for all-time rebounds in Gonzaga history, despite playing just two seasons at GU. Even without Sabonis, the Zags have been a perfectly good rebounding team.

This season, that isn’t the case. The Zags have been playing quite a bit more zone this season, but a zone defense ends up worthless if players are able to get freebie second-chance points.

The general rule of thumb in college basketball is dumb mistakes get punished by good teams, and that is how you make an early exit in the NCAA Tournament. Teams that make deep runs in the NCAA Tournament are hardly perfect, but they are able to cover up their flaws just enough to get the win. So far, Gonzaga has been able to do that, but this is also something they shouldn’t have to deal with.