I’d like to start today by giving credit to the Longwood Lancers. Coach Mike Gillian (friend of this blog) certainly got some mileage out of the game against the nation’s #1 with a pregame feature on espn.com and an appearance on Cold Pizza. Then the 1-12 Lancers did something that neither Wake Forest nor Gonzaga could do – play a reasonably competitive game against Illinois for 30 minutes, eventually losing 105-79. Priceless trivia tidbit: Longwood and Delaware State are the only teams to shoot better than 50% against Illinois so far. That’s the same Delaware State squad that missed its first 16 shots against Northwestern last night, in a 50-43 loss.
I promised some comments on the national efficiency stats I posted yesterday. One thing that jumped out at me involves the participants in the big game tonight, the aforementioned Gonzaga at Oklahoma State (correction: game is at Oklahoma City). It’s Mark Few’s unstoppable flex offense against Eddie Sutton’s impenetrable Iba-style defense. Gonzaga is #1 in adjusted offensive efficiency (OE), having previously torched Georgia Tech’s #1 ranked defense.
Over the summer, I declared Gonzaga the most underrated team, or something to that effect, in Andy Katz’s preseason top 50. The basis was that even though they lost some guys, including a talented point guard, the Gonzaga offense is as efficient as they come. I calculated efficiency stats for both 2002 and 2004 (I don’t know what I was doing in 2003), and Gonzaga led the nation both years.
Two years is a small sample, but I think it says something when a team performs well in the same area with somewhat different personnel. It says something about the system. And that system is working again. With the West Coast Conference schedule coming up, you can expect Gonzaga to finish the season #1 on the raw side of the OE stats again. That fact alone makes the price of $42.95 for tapes of Mark Few explaining his system seem like a bargain.
The Gonzaga defense has been a major disappointment so far. It’s weaker than anyone could have expected, ranking dead last among WCC teams. They have a couple of timely wins over highly ranked teams in Georgia Tech and Washington. But if they continue to give up points at the rate they have, then we have seen Gonzaga at their peak. They gave up over a point per possession (roughly the national average) to offensive lightweights Portland State (#203 adjusted OE), Idaho (#229), and Eastern Washington (#271).
They did manage put the clamps on Georgia Tech pretty well, holding them to 40% shooting. Though maybe the travel to Las Vegas and late game time for Georgia Tech had something to do with it, because that performance doesn’t fit in with the rest of Gonzaga’s portfolio. Gonzaga was able to bully Washington with its offense, beating the Huskies even while allowing them to shoot 50% from both two and three point range. That option won’t be available tonight. OSU won’t let the ‘Zags make 59% of their shots as they did against Washington, even if it means Eddie Sutton has to come on the floor and take a couple of charges himself.
So based on all of this info, we should expect (1) tonight’s game will be more high scoring that the Oklahoma State/Syracuse game (74-60 on December 7th) and (2) this game has blowout potential.