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The Gonzaga Bulldogs have outscored their opponents like crazy

Does that actually matter at all?

NCAA Basketball: Brigham Young at Gonzaga James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

The Gonzaga Bulldogs’ offense has been a thing of beauty to watch. Last week’s demolition of the BYU Cougars was just the exclamation point on that sentence. Against a supposedly capable team, the Zags effortlessly carved up BYU’s defense like the finest sushi chef and put it on display for the entirety of the nation to enjoy.

So far on the season, the Zags have outscored opponents by 738 points, the highest mark in the NCAA by the teams that matter by a rather large margin. Duke, the owners of Ken Pomeroy’s second-best offense, have only outscored opponents by 502 points this season.

Before we relish in that 200-plus difference, it is important to note that point differential is the most useless stat in modern basketball. Of course Gonzaga there is that large of a gulf between the Zags and the Blue Devils. Gonzaga was able to pour 100 points on Santa Clara. Duke is facing off against Virginia at least twice this season. Taking this number and comparing it to other teams is the most fruitless exercise possible.

In the end, the only team we can really compare Gonzaga to is Gonzaga. Generally speaking, over the past decade, the Zags have played relatively the same difficulty of non-conference schedule (much harder than the average squad), and the WCC has been the same quality (much easier than the average Power 5 conference).

Point Differential

Year Points Scored Points Against Differential Average Finish
Year Points Scored Points Against Differential Average Finish
2019 2630 1892 738 25.45 ~
2018 3091 2505 586 15.84 Sweet 16
2017 3222 2398 824 21.13 Championship game
2016 2840 2360 480 13.33 Sweet 16
2015 2989 2343 646 17.00 Elite 8
2014 2761 2372 389 10.81 Second Round
2013 2696 2095 601 17.17 Second Round
2012 2436 2086 350 10.61 Second Round
2011 2684 2307 377 10.77 Second Round
2010 2614 2291 323 9.50 Second Round

In the first half of the decade, the Zags rattled off five consecutive exits in the second round. Each year, except for one, the Zags roughly outscored their opponents by 10 points per game. The outlier was in 2013, when a No. 8 seeded Wichita State upset the No. 1 Zags en route to a Final Four appearance.

The one takeaway from this table is that each time the Zags are demolishing their opponents by more points, they tend to go deeper into the NCAA Tournament. That makes sense. Teams that can score and can defend just as well have the keys to what it takes to make it in.

If you are say, BYU, and have scored the seventh-most points this season (2383), it doesn’t matter much if you’ve give up 2283 points on the season, hence the 18-12 record.

The Zags haven’t had that issue this season. Gonzaga is outscoring its opponents at a better rate than 2017’s national title game team. What makes this even more tantalizing is that the WCC is world’s better than it was in 2017. Although Saint Mary’s was a top 20 KenPom squad, the dredges of the WCC sunk pretty low. This season, only Pacific and Portland are sub-200 teams, a miracle by WCC standards. In 2017, four teams were sub-200.

What is important, as a potential measuring stick for our expectations, is that the Gonzaga Bulldogs are crushing their opposition most of the time, and the overall offensive/defensive efficiency of their opponents is roughly the same this year as it was in 2017. Sometimes it is hard to take anything away from WCC play when the Zags are steamrolling, and perhaps this is something we can walk away with.