Gonzaga Basketball: Defense Will Be Key for Bulldogs in 2012-13

James Snook-US PRESSWIRE

We know Gonzaga has offensive firepower. Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell Jr. had extremely promising freshman years, Sam Dower indicated he could break out this year, and David Stockton’s progression cannot be understated. And, of course, don’t forget about Elias Harris.

But after losing Robert Sacre to the NBA, Gonzaga found itself needing to replace its most important defender.

Late Monday night or early Tuesday morning — depending on how you look at it — Gonzaga manhandled West Virginia. The game was only close in the opening minutes, as the Bulldogs struggled to find their shooting touch. However, once Gonzaga found an offensive rhythm, the lead burgeoned.

Yes, the Bulldogs put up a lot of points, but early on, their defense was as responsible for the offensive output as the offense itself. Mark Few pressed early in the first half, and with a handful of new faces in the lineup, West Virginia struggled to break free into the front court. Forcing turnovers off the press, Gonzaga promptly scored in transition, before the Mountaineers could fall back.

Few called off the press in the second half, with his team leading by 20-plus points. But the Bulldogs didn’t quit defensively to force a game-total of 18 turnovers. West Virginia shot just 27.3 percent from the floor and 3-of-26 from long range to the tune of 50 points.

No typos there.

It is worth acknowledging that the game marked West Virginia’s first game following the departures of Kevin Jones and Darryl Bryant. It will take time for Bob Huggins to establish a truly formidable product, but by the time Big 12 play rolls around, you can bet the Mountaineers will be a different team.

Don’t let that diminish Gonzaga’s domination, though. The Bulldogs proved that, even without Sacre, they can still be very successful defensively. In year’s past, Gonzaga has ranked in the top 35 of Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted defensive efficiency. That’s very solid.

We know the offense will be there. But if the Bulldogs can make the jump from top 35 to, say, top 25 in defensive efficiency, they can actually be one of the nation’s best teams.

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