Caulton Tudor

Heels haven't been exceptional at FT line in years

Posted December 20, 2013

James Michael McAdoo (43) drives past James Young (1) during action at the Dean E. Smith Center between the North Carolina Tar Heels and the Kentucky Wildcats on December 14, 2013 in Chapel Hill, NC. UNC won the contest over Kentucky 82-77. (Photo by: Will Bratton)

Although North Carolina’s free-throw shooting almost certainly will improve with time this season, the Tar Heels’ current conversion percentage of 59.6 is following the program’s general trend of the past few years.

Once among the nation’s most accurate teams at the line, the Heels haven’t converted more than 70 percent of their of free throws since the 2008-09 NCAA title team shot 75.2 percent.

The following season (20-17 overall, NIT), the percentage nosed to 65.3 and has stayed in the 60 percentile range since – 67.2 percent in 2010-11 (29-8 record, 14-2 ACC), 68.2 percent in 2011-12 (32-6 overall, 14-2 ACC) and 67.5 percent last season (25-11 overall, 12-6 ACC).

Free-throw shooting is down nationally and has been since the mid-1990s, but Carolina had been well above the norm most of those years. Beginning in the 2004-05 NCAA title season (33-4 overall, 14-2 ACC), the Heels converted 72.5 percent and didn’t slip below 70 percent until 2009-10.

Dating all the way back to early ’50s, Carolina has managed to shoot at least 62.9 percent (1952-53) and has finished above 70 percent in 31 seasons.

But with James Michael McAdoo having missed 41 of his 90 attempts (54.4 percent) and J.P. Tokoto seriously off-target (38.9 percent on 39 chances) through 10 games, the current team is flirting with historically weak numbers.

After missing 23 of 47 attempts in Tuesday’s 86-83 loss to Texas, Roy Williams challenged his team to “be tough enough to step it up and make the dadgum thing” at the free-throw line.

But in order to make consistent improvement, it’s clear that McAdoo’s mechanics are off and Tokoto has developed what seems to be a phobia at the line.

Like many big men with oversized hands, McAdoo has a tendency to hit the back of iron – missing long. For a person with average-sized hands, it’s like free-throw shooting a softball at a target 15 feet away and 10 feet high.

Many big men with similar troubles have had some success by simply stepping a foot or so behind the line. That strategy worked well at times for Wilt Chamberlain, Dennis Rodman and Hakeem Olajuwon, but not so for Ben Wallace and Chris Dudley.

McAdoo following Haywood path?

McAdoo shot 57.8 percent on 173 attempts last season and 63.8 percent on 94 attempts as a freshman, so there’s no reason he shouldn’t be able to improve at least some.

To a degree, McAdoo is much like former Carolina center Brendan Haywood in the late 1990s. As a freshman in 1997-98, he shot 63.5 percent, followed by 62.7 as a soph, 60.2 as a junior and then a miserable 51.6 as a senior in 2000-01.

Now with the Charlotte Hornets, Haywood has been a career 58.7 percent shooter at the line.

McAdoo hasn’t had an easy ride thus far and could be distracted to a degree from having had to play out of position frequently. A natural power forward, he’s been forced to the wing for long stretches but that situation should improve with the return of veteran winger Leslie McDonald.

Tokoto, Brice Johnson (58.6 percent) and Kennedy Meeks (58.1) are struggling but only Tokoto seems to be psyching himself out at the line. Johnson and Meeks clearly have potential to shoot in the mid 60 percent range.

Against Davidson (4-7) on Saturday (5 p.m., Smith Center), the Heels will face a team that has averaged more than 20 fouls per game and has watched opponents convert 72 percent of the time.

Whether it’s mental, mechanical, bad luck or a combination of everything and anything, missed free throws have resulted in two Carolina losses (Belmont and Texas) and will continue to be a point of opposition emphasis until the Heels can turn trips to the line into an asset rather than a liability.

27 Comments

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  • dave437 Dec 23, 7:55 p.m.

    mental midgets

  • StunGunn Dec 22, 5:30 a.m.

    When my kid was 11 years old, he hit 100 in a row. But he practiced them religiously. Watch... View More

    — Posted by mxteam44

    According to Roy, they shoot 200 of them in practice, and no one on the team shoots less than 60%, with most up at about 70%. It's got to be a mental thing.

  • StunGunn Dec 22, 5:29 a.m.

    They need to bring in Rick Barry, to show them how to shoot "Granny Style".

    — Posted by clharris5150

    I remember Rick Barry! I used to watch him when he played in the ABA. I know I'm dating myself, but those were some fun games to watch.

  • redwolfone Dec 21, 11:08 a.m.

    UNC hasn't been exceptional at running a clean program.

  • TJPC Dec 20, 4:28 p.m.

    Is this WRAL's daily piece on trashing the Tarheels? I guess it never gets old for them - haters have to hate.

  • Turheel Dec 20, 4:13 p.m.

    There, I fixed the subject line for you.

    — Posted by LuvsThePack

    A National Championship in 2009, Elite 8's in 2011 & 2012. You're right nothing exceptional in years. "Better for a f00l to remain silent than to speak and remove all doubt." Congrats!

  • LuvsThePack Dec 20, 3:49 p.m.

    There, I fixed the subject line for you.

  • I-40 Warrior Dec 20, 1:44 p.m.

    Why is UNC alway on the front page....... Oh thats right. UNCHEATERS. The gift that keeps on... View More

    — Posted by redwolfone

    Bwaahahahahhahahaha!!! Oh, I'm in tears from laughing so hard at your pouting. Maybe if the Pack were relevant on a national (or even conference) level, they'd get some attention. We Tar Heels do have to deal with the good and bad press that comes from having a dominant program. Stop your whining and start winning.

  • redwolfone Dec 20, 1:06 p.m.

    Why is UNC alway on the front page....... Oh thats right. UNCHEATERS. The gift that keeps on giving, the Carolina Way.

  • Objective Scientist Dec 20, 1:04 p.m.

    When my kid was 11 years old, he hit 100 in a row. But he practiced them religiously. Watch... View More

    — Posted by mxteam44

    Great job with your kid hitting 100 in a row... I've encountered some people who flat out say that "can't be done" by anyone of any age... but like you - I know it can be done with practice. I have also made the same observations you have. Players at all levels are not as "business like" in pre-game warm-ups and during the game itself as once was. Warm-ups... yes, much more shooting from the 3-pt line, or anything but free throws it seems. Also, a lot more "talking" - be it "trash" or simply "kidding around" - and less focusing on getting your shot right for the game... much more of a "casual" approach. I also think that all the "hand-slapping" etc. may be a distraction... probably more for some than for others. Player shoots first of two or first of a one-and-one and regardless of the outcome of the shot 2 or 3 of his teammates may step forward to "slap his hand"... I really don't know, and know of no research on this... but for some players it may be better if they focus totally - unbroken by hand-slaps - on the task at hand - preparing to make the upcoming shot! Speaking of distractions... I know some fans "love" that type of thing - if I were Roy I'd stop that "dancing" exhibition on the sideline prior to the game. IMO - any player doing that type of thing is NOT focusing to his max on preparing for the game!

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