The undervalued part of the Cougar defense

This should be a bit of a slow week for us here at CougCenter, given that it's finals week -- which matters far more to Grady than it does to me these days, thankfully -- and the fact that the team is off for eight days because of said finals.

But it will finally give me the opportunity to write about some of the stuff I've had in the bank for a while but been unable to find the time to compose because we've had a game to either break down or preview about every three days for the past month. Today is one of those posts.

Whenever people talk about the quality of a defense, they generally point to one of two statistics: Points allowed per game or field goal defense. The first, as you enlightened fans know, is a laughable statistic for analysis. The second is OK, but, of course, eFG% is better.

Today, though, I want to point you to an often overlooked third statistic that's worth noting when talking about why these Cougs are just so good defensively -- perhaps the best of the Tony Bennett era.

Defensive rebounding percentage.

The Cougs pride themselves on defense, and while a big part of defense is making the other team take a contested shot, the final act of defense is securing the rebound. If you play great defense for 30 seconds to force a tough shot, only to allow an offensive rebound and another opportunity to score, you have not done your job defensively. Ending the possession without any points being scored and heading up the court to score yourself is the goal.

This team's prowess at ending possessions after one shot is a huge reason why this defense is so darn good. Yes, we're ahead of the pace of the last two years in terms of eFG% allowed, but if you look at how the upper tier teams have shot on us, it's clear that number has been somewhat deflated by some of our competition.

No, what's separating this team right now is that it's collecting an absolutely absurd amount of defensive rebounds. This year's Cougs are securing nearly 78 percent of their defensive rebounding opportunities (fourth nationally) compared with just over 70 percent (42nd) a year ago and 68.5 percent (76th) two years ago. And that hasn't just been bolstered by the weak competition; of the four big-time teams we've played, only Pitt kept us under 70 percent, while the other three were at 80 percent (MSU), 79.2 percent (Baylor) and 75.8 percent (Gonzaga).

To what can we attribute that?

Well, the obvious answer for most would be Aron Baynes. After all, the big Aussie is a rebounding machine, probably second only to Jon Brockman in the Pac-10. (But the gap between the two is much smaller than most people realize. Yes, I said it. And I can back it up, too, if we want to have that conversation sometime.) But Baynes was on the team last year, so that can't be it. Could it be his frontcourt mate, DeAngelo Casto? DC is certainly helping at 17.6 in defensive rebounding percentage, but that number's not appreciable higher than what Robbie Cowgill brought to the table.

So what's the difference? Easy. There are only four guards in the top 20 in the Pac-10 in defensive rebounding percentage, and the Cougs have two of them: Klay Thompson and Nikola Koprivica.

Those two guys are difference makers on the defensive glass. Both are crashing the defensive boards with ferocity. Klay uses his above-average height and exceptional length to easily snatch rebounds away from smaller players, while Koprivica uses techniques such as the antiquated box out (really, guys still do that?) to hold off sometimes larger players.

For as much as we focus on the offensive exploits of Klay and perceived offensive troubles of Koprivica, I guarantee Tony Bennett is not overlooking the way these two are contributing on the defensive glass. It's what allows Daven Harmeling to play power forward for this team while contributing less on the glass (6.0 DR%) than Taylor Rochestie (9.0 DR%). It's one of the big reasons this defense been so darn good and kept the Cougs in games they probably shouldn't have been in given the state of the offense.

The question, of course, is whether Koprivica and Thompson can ever start generating effective offense against a good team when on the floor together. And I'm sure we'll talk plenty this week about lineup combinations. But for today, just have a healthy appreciation for what these guys are doing for the defense.

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