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Kelly Olynyk, the nation’s most improved player

Jan 6, 2013, 11:15 AM EDT

Kelly Olynyk

After winning at Santa Clara last night, No. 10 Gonzaga improved 15-1 on the season, with a pair of road wins to kick off WCC play.

They are ranked 13th according to Kenpom, a number that could climb drastically if the Zags can ever put together enough defensive stops to improve their defensive efficiency, which is currently sitting at 61st in the country. That’s because Gonzaga is the third-most efficient offensive team in the country, which, frankly, is an incredible fact when you take a look at the season that some of their best players are having.

Kevin Pangos, who many expected to have a Dan Dickau-esque career in Spokane, has seen his scoring dip to 11.8 points, a number that was significantly bolstered by the 54 points he scored in wins over Oklahoma State and Baylor in the last week of December. Gary Bell Jr. has seen his three-point shooting drop from 47.7% to 34.4%. Elias Harris is having an excellent season despite the fact that he’s hit just 3-19 from beyond the arc.

The difference this year?

Kelly Olynyk, a 7-foot Canadian that has gone from a a seldom-used sophomore to a redshirt year to a potential WCC Player of the Year as a junior. There isn’t a more improved player in the country.

Olynyk is averaging a team-high 17.1 points while also chipping in 6.6 boards. He’s shooting 71.1% from inside the arc and 81.4% from the charity stripe. Perhaps more importantly, he’s played his best basketball against Gonzaga’s toughest competition while developing a knack from taking over down the stretch. He had all 22 of his points in the second half of a comeback win at Washington State. He had all 21 of his points in the second half of a win at Oklahoma State. He had 12 of his 21 points in the second half of a win over Baylor, sparking the game-changing run with 10 minutes left in the game. He went for 20 in a win over Kansas State.

Olynyk’s best game of the season came on Saturday night, as he finished with a career-high 33 points while adding 10 boards, the first time in his career that Olynyk has notched a double-double against a Division I opponent. (He had 11 points and 10 boards in a win over Lewis & Clark.)

With a front line that includes Harris, Sam Dower and Przemek Karnowski, Gonzaga has a front line with as much size and versatility as any team in the country.

But if it wasn’t for Olynyk’s development, they wouldn’t be seriously discussed as a top ten team in the country.

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

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