Gonzaga Statistical Analysis

Mar. 25 -- The Zags certainly have some scoring punch that UCLA will need to deal with on Friday...

In the first weekend of the tournament, the Bruins basically played to expectation—pulling out a one point win over SMU and crushing UAB. With that said, HOLY COW did the Improbability Drive from Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy make an appearance in Louisville on Thursday? UAB over Big 12 tournament champ Iowa State? Game-winning goaltending on a three-pointer?!?! We couldn’t do a statistical preview of the UAB game because we literally did not stop wandering around in a daze until Saturday morning, at which point the one sentence article “UCLA should win this game by a lot but seriously nobody knows anything and can somebody go frame by frame to check if that ball turned into a sperm whale or a bowl of petunias before poor Yanick Moreira tipped it” would probably not have been up to this site’s editorial standards. Anyway, here comes Gonzaga again. Don’t Panic.

The Bulldogs are really good. Among the teams left in the tournament, they are ranked fifth in every trustworthy ratings system that we follow, with a very efficient offense and a solid defense. If the Bruins want to advance to face the winner of the Battle of the Coach Ks, they must give their best effort of the season (Utah, UCLA’s current best win, has risen to sixth in most ratings, but that game was at Fortress Pauley).

The Matchup

The Pomeroy ratings put UCLA 30th in the country, second-lowest among all Sweet 16 teams, while they rate Gonzaga seventh in the country, fifth-highest among Sweet 16 teams.

Just as in football we track the “five factors” of efficiency, explosiveness, scoring, turnovers, and field position, in basketball we track the “four factors” of shooting, turnovers, offensive rebounding, getting to the foul line (for a pretty solid explanatory article on why these are the most important factors, go here. We track those factors by the following statistics:

  • Effective Field Goal Percentage (eFG%) to measure Shooting. eFG% is more robust than regular FG% because it weights for three pointers, which are worth more than twos.
  • Turnover Percentage (TO%) to measure turnovers. TO% divides the amount of turnovers by the amount of possessions to give a better sense of how often the team is turning the ball over than just the raw amount of turnovers
  • Offensive Rebound Percentage (OR%) to measure offensive rebounding. OR% divides the amount of offensive rebounds by the opportunities for rebounds.
  • Free Throw Rate(FTA/FGA) to measure getting to the foul line. This divides free throws attempted by field goals attempted to figure out how often a team is getting to the line.
Here is how the two teams stack up:

As with the SMU stats, we should keep in mind that Gonzaga had a significantly worse strength of schedule than UCLA. It seems that the greatest disparities are in Effective Field Goal Percentage and Effective Field Goal Percentage Allowed.

The Players

When we previewed the Zags’ 13 point win over the Bruins in December, we wrote that they only go around six deep in players that can score, and not much has changed since then. The best scorer is still Kyle Wiltjer, who is riding a fantastic 61.5% eFG% based on knock down outside shooting (46.6% from three) and strong finishing at the rim (69.5%). He has an Alfordian usage rate and is going to get his points, but the Bruins must chase him off the three point line and force him into midrange jumpers.

Point guard Kevin Pangos is shooting 45.2% from three, where he takes nearly two-thirds of his shots. The bruisers inside are (sorry, Chris Roberts) Przemek Karnowski and Domantas Sabonis. Karnowski gets 59.7% of his shots at the rim and Sabonis, who clearly learned passing and distance shooting from mom, gets three quarters of his shots at the rim. From close range, Karnowski and Sabonis are shooting 68.9% and 75.4%, respectively, so it is imperative that the Bruin big men force the two away from the basket and box out on rebounds. Karnowski only hits 51% of his free throws.

Trojan All-Star Byron Wesley is shooting worst among the Gonzaga Big Six, though his 52.9% eFG% would be good for second among the Bruins’ main rotational players. He is the best Bulldog at getting to the line, though once he gets there he only makes two-thirds of his free throws. Given the extreme shallowness of the UCLA backcourt, his defender must be mindful of foul trouble. Given Wesley only shoots 30% for three, sagging a little bit and cutting off driving lanes might be a good idea. He decisively outplayed Norman Powell in the first game—that cannot happen again if the Bruins hope to advance.

Gary Bell, Jr. shoots a lot of threes at a good-enough 37.3% clip (56% eFG%).

UCLA Scoring Consistency

Given the recent explosions by Tony, Bryce, and Isaac, we decided to run the numbers to see who the most consistent scorers were for the Bruins. If you’ve read any Bruinalytics articles over the last few months, you’ll know we prefer tempo-adjusted stats, so we compiled each player’s Points Per Possession, then found the standard deviation over the season (In a nutshell, standard deviation tells you how far your data is dispersed from the mean).

These numbers show us that Norman Powell and Bryce Alford score the most (not much of a revelation, given they shoot the most). More interestingly, when we look at the standard deviations, we see that Kevon Looney is far and away the most consistent Bruin in points per possession (we’ll leave the analysis of what that means to the other experts). Isaac Hamilton is the least consistent scorer, though Tony Parker and Norman Powell aren’t far off. Bryce Alford has the second-lowest standard deviation, though it should be noted that his standard deviation is closer to Hamilton than Looney.

To us, this looks like there is a fair amount of variance among most of the Bruin scorers. To illustrate the point, if the Bruins have 68 possessions as they did in the first Gonzaga game, 68% of the time we would expect Looney to score between 7 and 16 points, Alford to score between 16 and 22 points, Powell to score between 10 and 23 points, Parker to score between 5 and 18 points, and Hamilton to score between 3 and 17 points. That’s a difference between 41 points from the starters and a certain loss and 96 points from the starters and a certain trip to the Elite Eight.

The Computers

Using a Simple Ratings System (solid descriptive article here), we see the following: Using Sports-Reference.com’s numbers, UCLA has an SRS of 12.34 while Gonzaga has an SRS of 21.43, meaning that on a neutral court,Sports Reference predicts a 9 point Gonzaga win. Pomeroy gives UCLA a 23% chance of winning and FiveThirtyEight gives UCLA a 24% chance of winning.

We hope you have enjoyed Bruinalytics for UCLA Basketball. Questions? Comments? Meet us on the Premium Hoops Forums, or tweet us @Bruinalytics .

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