The most common question you’ll hear heading into Thursday’s Gonzaga/West Virginia game deals with defense:
How will the Zags handle themselves against the vaunted “Press Virgina” style employed by the Mountaineers?
Bob Huggins’ team has been using its full court press to stifle opponents all season with great success. That defense has led West Virginia to a 28-8 record, a No. 4 seed and a spot in the Sweet 16. So, it’s a good and valid question. But it’s not a great question because when this game tips off West Virginia won’t even be the best defensive unit on the floor.
If you want to talk about defense you need to talk about the team with the best defense in the country: the Gonzaga Bulldogs.
You need to talk about the team that ranks first nationally in effective field goal percentage defense (41.6%; West Virginia ranks 100th), adjusted defensive efficiency per KenPom (87.4; West Virginia ranks 5th) and raw defensive efficiency (86.1; West Virginia ranks 6th).
You need to talk about the team that holds its opponents to just 61.1 points per game (West Virginia gives up 66.8) and leads the nation in margin of victory, winning games by an average of 22.8 points.
But you probably aren’t. Because West Virginia defends in an absolutely thrilling way.
No team forces more turnovers than the Mountaineers, who get opponents to cough it up on 27.7 percent of their possessions. No team averages shorter defensive possessions than West Virginia (15.7 seconds). And, while I don’t have a stat for this, I’m sure no team spends more time defending under it’s own basket than West Virginia does.
West Virginia’s style draws your eye in a way that Gonzaga’s doesn’t. A casual fan who doesn’t tune in until March will notice what West Virginia is doing defensively, but might not see how smothering the Zags are on that end as well.
Gonzaga ranks sixth nationally in three-point percentage defense (30%) and second in two-point percentage defense (40%). Teams almost never get a wide open first shot against the Zags. Mark Few’s squad plays perfect team defense, and they do it better than anybody else in the country.
The only area the Zags struggle statistically on the defensive end is the same area in which West Virginia excels. While West Virginia ranks first in forcing turnovers, the Zags rank 220th. But that’s by design. The Zags will let teams bring the ball up the floor. They don’t need to force turnovers.
They force bad shots instead, and they’ve done it better than any team in the country.