Gonzaga Basketball: Why Numbers Show Zags Deserve No. 1 Ranking

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Gonzaga Basketball: Why Numbers Show Zags Deserve No. 1 Ranking

Get ready for a lot of screaming and stone-throwing directed at the Gonzaga Bulldogs on Monday afternoon. 

Barring an upset at BYU on Thursday night or against Portland on Saturday, Gonzaga will likely be the new No. 1 in both major NCAA polls. It will be the first time that a school outside of the power six conferences has been No. 1 since Memphis in 2008.

For some reason, this makes people angry. Let me go ahead and give you a preview of the hyperbole that is sure to ensue:

The Zags don't play anyone! Their conference is garbage! 

Let's see what Gonzaga would do in a real conference!

Just wait until the NCAA tournament. The Zags will choke like usual!

My advice? Ignore it.

Unless you ever stay up late enough to watch the Zags, don't join in the yelling. Gonzaga is as legitimate a No. 1 as we've had all season, and this isn't just my opinion. The numbers back it up.

In fact, the numbers say: What the heck took so long?

Mark Few is as aware of the perceptions of the West Coast Conference as anyone, so he schedules like a crazy man (or Tom Izzo) to make sure his team plays strong non-conference competition.

James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

The sample size for the Zags might not be as large as their power-conference brothers, but it is substantial. Gonzaga has played 12 games against teams ranked in the top 100 in the RPI. In those games, the team is 10-2. 

The only top 10 team with a better winning percentage against the RPI top 100 is Miami with a 13-2 record. 

If you think Gonzaga is simply beating up on weak opponents, let's throw out those games against teams that most would deem unworthy of sniffing a power conference. 

Here is a chart that shows the current AP top 10 teams (six of which had their turn at No. 1 in one of the polls) and takes a Ken Pomeroy-like look at their resumes, only counting the games against the RPI top 100. The final three columns of data take into account every possession played in those games.

 


vs. RPI Top 100 Points per possession PPP Allowed Efficiency Margin
Indiana 10-4 1.14 1.02 +0.12
Gonzaga 10-2 1.19 1.01 +0.18
Duke 12-3 1.13 1.02 +0.11
Michigan 10-4 1.12 1.03 +0.09
Miami 13-2 1.06 0.89 +0.17
Kansas 13-3 1.10 0.93 +0.17
Georgetown 11-3 0.97 0.91 +0.06
Florida 11-5 1.12 0.91 +0.21
Michigan St. 10-6 1.03 1.00 +0.03
Louisville 9-5 1.04 0.95 +0.09

Note: Number of possessions used to calculate points per possession via KenPom.com

 

As you can see, only Florida has performed better on a per-possession basis than Gonzaga. The Gators haven't been quite as consistent from game to game, as their five losses indicate. It is worth noting Gonzaga was an inbounds pass away from an 11-1 record in these games as well. 

If you object against the use of RPI, by all means, object away. I'm against it as well, but the RPI is not helping Gonzaga here anymore than it is the other teams.

The Big Ten squads, for instance, get to count blowouts against Nebraska as RPI top 100 wins. The Cornhuskers, who are 13-15 overall, rank 95th in the RPI, but they rank only 148th in Ken Pomeroy's ratings

Every RPI top 100 opponent for Gonzaga also ranks in the top 100 in Pomeroy's ratings, where Gonzaga is fourth. That is two spots ahead of Duke, by the way, which is the team that could conceivably jump the Zags in some voters' minds if the Devils take care of Miami on Saturday. 

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The voters should ignore that temptation. 

Let the non-believers spout their "Gonzaga hasn't played anyone" nonsense. There are 779 possessions of basketball that say the Zags are a dominant force against top competition.

Yes, the Zags have played only one game against an RPI top 25 team, but they do have two wins against teams in the current AP top 25 (Oklahoma State and Kansas State) and three against Pomeroy's top 20 (Oklahoma State and two wins against Saint Mary's). 

Gonzaga's losses came against two teams (Butler and Illinois) that have knocked off current No. 1 Indiana. The Zags also don't have an inexcusable loss on their resume—like, say, against South Florida, Penn State, TCU or Florida Gulf Coast.

If these numbers aren't enough proof, I suggest you take a look at Matt Norlander's comparison of Gonzaga to 2008 Memphis. Avi Wolfman-Arent also did a nice job showing that the WCC is as good as it has ever been, while Gonzaga has never been this dominant before. 

This Gonzaga team is better than any before it. Compare Few's current bunch with his past teams if you must, but this squad is at another level.

So go ahead and take your turn at No. 1, Zags. Just bring your headphones to drown out the noise. 

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