After pushing over the 100 point mark just once this season, over their past three games, the Zags lowest point total is 110 points. For everyone else in college basketball, it might be time to start getting a tad bit afraid.
Of the Zags’ past three opponents, the BYU Cougars theoretically boast a solid defense (still ranked No. 18 in the nation even after the thrashing), Santa Clara’s is average at best, and Pepperdine’s is just not very good.
However, for a bit of context, the Zags, who have scored a combined 342 points in their last three games, have posted efficiency totals of 130.3 (Pepperdine), 141.7 (BYU), and 127.1 (Santa Clara). Remarkably, Pepperdine and Santa Clara are just the sixth- and seventh-highest team ORtgs this season.
However, a quick look at the KenPom rankings of some of those other beatdowns is why we should be excited, and why everyone else should be a bit nervous: Central Michigan (KenPom #338), Bellarmine (No. 200), and Northern Arizona (No. 319) occupy spots 2-4, with Texas landing at No. 5.
Why is this happening? To put it very simply: The Zags are hitting threes.
The Zags shot 52.4 percent from long range against BYU (best this season), 46.2 percent against Santa Clara (third-best), and 40 percent (sixth-best) against Pepperdine. It also helped that the squad was, as basically always, anywhere from ruthlessly efficient (78 against BYU) to just good for Gonzaga (60.3 vs. Pepperdine) from two-point, the major driver of the Gonzaga offense.
Earlier in the year, I wrote about how the Zags’ three-point shooting woes aren’t necessarily much of a cause for concern because the bread and butter for this team is the two-point shot.
Although the purpose of that article was to mathematically point out how the Zags efficiency from two-points offset the lack of three-point shot, it also left a different part of the mix unspoken.
The Zags’ offense is still driven by two-point shots. Those field goals account for over half of their total attempts, which have been a pretty consistent trademark for the teams in recent years with the likes of Drew Timme and Filip Petrusev operating in the post. However, if a two-point reliant offense suddenly starts draining the three-pointers they weren’t earlier in the year, then, as we saw, the Zags’ offense goes from being merely elite to beyond elite.
It is no coincidence that the last three games for the Zags also account for three of the sixth-highest three-point game totals this season. Interestingly enough, the Zags were not reliant on the three-point shot in any of those games. Against Pepperdine, the three-point shot accounted for 30.1 percent of total field goal attempts—the lowest mark this season. Against BYU, it was just 33.9 percent and Santa Clara was 34.7 percent. For reference, the two highest marks are 55.4 percent against Texas Tech (also a win) and 46 percent against UCLA (also a win).
Three games hopefully makes a trend. Throughout the year, the Zags offense has off and on struggled with turnovers, but consistently struggled from three. Even with those two pretty major offensive factors going against them, the Zags have still posted one of the top offenses in the nation.
If, and this will always be the big if, the Zags three-point shooting is here to stay, or at the very least improved a healthy amount, it might be time to start buying into the title hype again.