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How Does This Year’s No. 1 Squad Stack Up

Compared to previous Gonzaga squads, what can we expect from this year’s No. 1 team?

NCAA Basketball: Eastern Washington at Gonzaga James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

Yesterday, the Gonzaga Bulldogs were named the No. 1 team for the fifth time in school history, four of those rankings coming in the past four years (two of the No. 1’s were during last season).

It is an impressive feat, considering for many people, this season was to be as much of a rebuilding year as it gets in Spokane. Only 75 percent of the minutes played and 80 percent of the points scored left to either graduation or pastures that pay money. Sure, the Zags roped in a huge recruiting class, but there were so many new faces on the squad, it was hard to expect it would gel this quickly.

So how does this squad compare to the previous No. 1 squads? Right off the bat, we can point out that this is a truly foolish endeavor. College basketball goes in waves, and just applying statistics year to year is hard, especially from basketball guru Ken Pomeroy’s site, because the statistics are adjusted rankings for that year specifically. Still, I was interested to see how this year’s squad sizes up against the previous three season’s worth of No. 1’s.

Here is a table detailing the “Four Factors,” as Pomeroy puts it: effective field goal percentage, turnover percentage, offensive rebound percentage, and free throw attempts per field goal attempts. Essentially, those are the four options you have for any possession: a field goal attempt, a turnover, an offensive rebound, or a foul leading to free throws.

(Quick Note: I have no idea why the stupid formatting isn’t working—the top row is this season offense/defense, the second row is last season’s, the third row is 2016-17, and the final row is 2012-13)

Gonzaga No. 1 Teams

7 9 48 60
110 172 21 17
1 14 76 103
7 138 106 20
8 37 144 76
1 266 49 21
8 31 20 49
34 126 86 49

Despite what I said earlier in this being a worthless endeavor, I want to point out two takeaways I noticed immediately: The defense actually seems to be in line in a couple of key areas. First off, this Gonzaga team is one of the better defensive rebounding squads we’ve had. Although the eFG% isn’t necessarily where many of us would hope it is, the Zags are good at ensuring opposing teams don’t get too many extra possessions. Second, the Zags are good at denying shooting fouls, generally meaning that Gonzaga isn’t giving up any extra points there. This is sort of a backhanded compliment because too many times this season we’ve seen the defense give up open looks at the paint because of poor defensive communication.

On the offensive end, the Zags are just fine—that isn’t a worry after all, this team has the top-ranked offense. The Zags shoot the ball well, they rarely turn it over, they get the offensive rebounds, and they get to the charity stripe (whether or not they hit those free throws is the question mark).

Now that we are done staring at numbers that don’t mean anything, the question, of course, is what can we actually draw from this. Every year Gonzaga has been a No. 1 team in the AP Poll, they have ended up with a No. 1 seed. That seeding is the first goal of finally getting the national championship.

In that realm, I’d have to agree with the countless number of people who have broached the subject: This year might represent the best year Gonzaga has.

Last season, the story was the insanely efficient Virginia Cavaliers offense combined with their trademark stellar defense. In 2017, we can probably say that was Gonzaga’s best shot (considering they made the national championship) because they were the best team in the nation. In 2013, Louisville was a clear step above every other team in the country, and they cut down the nets.

This season, it has become pretty obvious that there is not a clearly top team in college basketball. Gonzaga is the No. 1 team in the nation this week. We’ve already had six teams rise to the top in just eight polls. This is by no stretch Gonzaga’s best team (until proven otherwise, the 2017 squad will forever hold that title), but this team might have the best chance at advancing to the Final Four and further, solely because the college basketball climate is so tumultuous.

These Zags don’t have the star power of last year’s squad, they don’t have the wisdom of 2017’s squad, and they don’t have the balance of the 2013 squad, but they also aren’t No. 1 by accident. As meaningless as the polls may be, they do offer solid insight into the temperature of a team on a week-by-week basis.

Considering the Zags own one loss to an NCAA Tournament team, and also own three top 25 wins (two on the road, one neutral) and a win over North Carolina, Gonzaga is playing like the best team in the nation at this very moment. The No. 1 ranking is more than justified.

The question going forward will be how does Gonzaga improve during WCC play? Defensive miscues are still an issue at this point in the season. Right now, the offense is able to carry them past. In March, however, that becomes a much harder task.