The newly-minted No. 1 team in college basketball is the Gonzaga Bulldogs, long thought of as one of the game’s perennial Cinderella stories, but always a few steps from the top. While it isn’t obvious on the surface, a little statistical analysis suggests that the reason Mark Few’s squad has finally broken through to be among the country’s best is that defense is consistently creating offense.
The ‘Zags are holding opponents to 38.5% shooting from the field, 32.4% from the three point line and are forcing an average of 13.87 turnovers per game. This outstanding performance, combined with the fact that the Bulldogs’ opponents are scoring only 60.1 points per game on average suggests that in fact defense is creating offense, a relationship that is almost always the hallmark of a top team — regardless of level.
Gonzaga’s 78.4 points per game is driven by the team’s big three of Kelly Olynyk (17.7 PPG), Elias Harris (14.6 PPG), and Kevin Pangos (11.7 PPG) who each also play their own roles on the defensive side of the floor. Olynyk also averages seven boards per game and has a team high of 34 blocks on the season through 28 games, good for 1.21 blocks per game. Harris averages 7.5 rebounds per game and is third on the team in steals — as a forward — with 1.17 per game. Pangos is second on the team in steals — to point guard David Stockton — and has an outstanding assist to turnover ratio of 2.55.
In short, when your top three players show this much of a commitment to the defensive side of the ball and ensuring they do what must be done there, offense follows. You cannot shoot almost 51% from the field and 37% from three-point range without creating easy opportunities from defensive stops, and more importantly, from long rebounds that key fast breaks and mismatches in the open court.
The old adage is tired and trite, but there’s plenty of truth in it:
Defense creates offense.
Mark Few wouldn’t have it any other way.