Talk about this Gonzaga team having Final Four potential is pretty tired at this point. In fact, some experts have taken it a step further, saying they've got the goods to win a National Championship. But with all of the talented, and highly regarded GU teams the last two decades the natural follow up question is - what's the difference this year?
We keep hearing one word again and again: Defense.
Gonzaga can win the whole thing. Best defensive team Mark Few has ever had, and a balanced offensive attack. Legit Final Four team.— Jay Bilas (@JayBilas) February 11, 2017
ESPN's Jay Bilas, who is as tuned in to college hoops as anyone, tweeted over the weekend, 'Gonzaga can win the whole thing, best defensive team Mark Few has ever had'.
It's not just guys like Bilas talking. Mark Few mentioned it after the San Diego game when asked about characteristics that set apart this group.
"They're having a heck of a year on the defensive end," Few answered. "They've shown up to this point that they haven't really taken a night off. When they've needed to have an attention to detail like a game like this they've had it. When they've needed to be physical and athletic they've done that. When they've had to suffocate three point shooters they've done that."
So he brings up two key points:
1) They don't take nights off defensively.
2) They've adjusted well to different opponents and styles of play.
Both are super important when you think about the variety of teams you can face in the NCAA Tournament.
"I think we've had some pretty good defensive teams that maybe people haven't really clued in on," Few said. "Our numbers have been pretty good the last five years or so, some of our teams. Others we've had to make some sacrifices because we had some pretty special offensive players on the team that just weren't capable of being very good defensively."
If we're going back a few years, that 2006 team's adjusted defensive efficiency rating according to Ken Pomeroy was 170th in the country. But when it comes to more recent teams, especially since the Kelly Olynyk year, they've been solid.
As the image below shows the recent Gonzaga teams have ranked high in numerous defensive statistical categories.
However past teams have lacked consistency across the board. The 2015 Elite Eight team and the 2013 one-seed squad didn't guard the three-point line well. They ranked 134th in 2013 - and we remember how Wichita State went off from deep in that tournament loss.
But when you look at this year's group, they are top-8 in each of the statistical categories shown above.
With the exception of last year's defense of the three-point line, this year's team ranks more highly than any of its last four counterparts in each category.
The numbers prove that Gonzaga is not just a good defensive team - they are elite. Few elaborated Monday on why they have been able to take it to that level.
"We have across the board guys that can really play defense collectively they buy in and they've done a nice job of adhering to the game plans and scouting reports," Few added. "Adding that bit of athleticism has been huge on the back line the fact our guards are pretty good size has helped also."