Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Free Throw Line Not Always Charitable

Basketball players today are a combination of athletes and acrobats. They leap, twist and contort in ways their predecessors could never have imagined. But there’s one thing they can’t do: Shoot free throws. It’s a shame, too. While high flying acrobatics are fun to watch, free throw shooting is frequently the margin between defeat and victory.

Take the last games of Kentucky’s famed basketball programs as examples. Louisville lost its NCAA opener by one point to Morehead State. In that game, Louisville shot only 7 of 16 from the free throw line for a paltry for 44 percent. It’s easy to see how U of L could have advanced simply by making a few more free throws.

The same could be said for the University of Kentucky. UK fell a bucket shy of making the national championship game. In its loss to Connecticut, UK shot only 4 of 12 from the free throw for an anemic 33 percent. I think it’s fair to say Kentucky could have won the national title if not for poor free throw shooting. This is old hat to UK Head Coach John Calipari, having already lost a title due to poor free throw shooting.

The most frustrating part of this is free throw shooting is really the only thing in sports that can be replicated in practice almost exactly as it occurs in a game. The shooter will always be 15 foot from the basket, which is always 10-feet high. There are no other variables, such as defenders in the way. Given this, it would seem a player could improve his free throw stroke with nothing more than a basketball, a goal and a commitment. Nevertheless, the line continues to confound otherwise good players.

Consider Louisville’s Stephen VanTreese. Van Treese is the kind of player coaches love. He is a 6-foot-9 bottle of energy who hustles, rebounds, plays defense and kicks in a few garbage baskets. He also shoots only 31 percent from the free throw line. As a result, he has to sit at the end of close games, when he could be most useful.

Peyton Siva, Louisville’s point guard, shoots free throws at more than double Van Treese’s average. However, his 68 percent (63 in conference) isn’t good enough for someone who is always handling the ball in late game situations. In fact, I doubt there is anyone on Louisville’s team who could have stepped up and knocked down two free throws with two seconds left the way UConn freshman Shabazz Napier did against UK.

Free throw shooting won’t get you on SportsCenter. It will only win you games … and championships.

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