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Way Too Early Statistical Analysis: Gonzaga’s Best Line-up

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What is the actual death lineup?

NCAA Basketball: Kansas at Gonzaga Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

At this point in the season, we might start making some insights into the Gonzaga Bulldogs that might hold a little bit of weight with the number of games under their belt. Of course, this is not a normal season.

After shutting down the program due to COVID, the Zags sit at No. 1 in the nation and No. 2 in KenPom’s rankings with a 3-0 record. With a grand total of 120 minutes played, at this point, is is sheer nonsense to actually try and stretch any analysis into weighted statements of value.

However, if there is one thing to know about Peter Woodburn the writer and human being, it is that I do not believe in sheer nonsense. So let’s get down into it. All of the stats we are looking at are coming from EvanMiya.com, a very cool (and free) site to dig around in.

The Death Lineup

Gonzaga’s offense, in case you have not heard, is very good. It is currently ranked No. 1 in the country by almost a full point over Iowa. As of now, the Zags are holding the top-ranked KenPom offense for the third-straight year. According to his stats, the Zags have had a grand total of 180 offensive possessions.

87 of those possessions have come between two lineups: Joel Ayayi, Corey Kispert, Jalen Suggs, Drew Timme, and Anton Watson; and Ayayi, Kispert, Nembhard, Suggs, and Timme. The latter of which has performed the best.

Interestingly enough, many of us here on the staff have referred to Watson as the x-factor and the difference maker. He worked well with Timme last year (albeit in limited appearances). Watson has struggled to find his footing offensively to start the year. His ORtg is the lowest by a large margin amongst the key members of the squad, largely due to shooting 36.4 percent from the floor.

It makes sense that the lineup featuring two point guards in Suggs and Nembhard, anchored by Ayayi and Kispert on the wings, does the most damage. It is essentially a four-guard lineup, with one of those guards (Kispert) large enough to role play as a power forward on the defensive end without giving up too much height.

However, that is not the true death lineup. As of now, statistically, that honor goes to the five-man rotation of Ayayi, Kispert, Nembhard, Timme, and Watson.

Now, how can I just get done talking about Watson’s struggles on offense and have this one be better. Sorting by adjusted team efficiency means we are incorporating both offense and defense into the mix. Although the lineup of Ayayi, Kispert, Nembhard, Timme, and Watson have coexisted for nearly one-third as many as the other, the defense is carrying the weight here. It shouldn’t be much of a surprise three of the top four defensive lineups for the Zags this season featured Watson on the floor.

Another cool thing to note, the average opponent BPR refers to the strength of the competition faced, the higher the number the better. The defense has shut down the toughest competition the Zags have faced all season.

The Best One-Two Combo

For this award, we are looking at the chemistry score, which Evan Miya describes as, “A score that reflects how much better than average the team performs when these two players on the court together, compared to team averages when they are on the court individually.” Boy, I am excited for this one.

Player 1: Corey Kispert. Player 2: Oumar Ballo. The gods have spoken. The statistics do not lie.

Let’s just ignore the fact that those 28 offensive possessions account for the second-lowest combo on the squad and revel in the fact that success is directly tied to Kispert and Baby Shaq crushing opponents at the same time.

If we want to be a bit more meaningful with this way too-early analysis, we need to look at the weighted chemistry. It should not be much of a surprise to see a combination of Corey Kispert, Jalen Suggs, and Joel Ayayi involved in each of the top four. Nor should it be much of a surprise to see the top combination as Kispert and Suggs. They are two of Gonzaga’s best players and focal points on offense.


Of course, just three games in, none of this should be taken with any more weight than a grain of salt. If the Zags had been able to rattle off these games at home, we might have some better and more concrete insight with a larger body of work.