Much of ACC flunking free throws
Posted February 17
Updated February 18
In 1992, almost 20 years after his retirement from coaching in 1975, John Wooden sat in UCLA’s Pauley Pavilion and reflected on his 10 NCAA championship seasons with the Bruins.
Asked if there was a common denominator related to all of those teams, Wooden said there were several but the thing he mentioned first was free throw shooting.
“If you give away points at the free throw line, it’s awfully difficult to be a championship contender,” he said.
Take heed, ACC.
Entering North Carolina’s game at Florida State tonight at 7 p.m., only Duke from the ACC ranks among the NCAA’s top 30 in free throw conversions, and then, just barely.
At 74.4 percent, the Blue Devils are tied with Wisconsin, Montana and South Dakota for that No. 30 spot.
Clemson and Boston College aren’t far behind - both at just 74 percent.
But from there, you have to go all the way to Notre Dame at No. 81.
UNC, NC State and Wake Forest are among the nation’s absolute worst at the line. Among the 351 teams listed by the NCAA statistical bureau, the Wolfpack is No. 311 at 65.4 percent, Wake No. 330 (64.2 percent) and Carolina tied for No. 344 at 62.3 percent.
More than P.J. Hairston’s absence, more than Leslie McDonald perimeter flame-out, more than anything else, free throw shooting has undermined Carolina.
The Heels are 17-7 overall and 7-4 in the ACC entering the game at FSU (6-7, 15-10). But if they were converting just at a moderate rate - say 70 percent - the Heels would be more like 20-4, 9-2 and in contention for an NCAA first or second regional seed.
State,16-9, 6-6 entering Tuesday’s 7 p.m. game at Clemson (15-9, 6-6), could have completely changed its NCAA report card with better free throw work in Saturday’s 56-55 loss at top-ranked Syracuse. The Wolfpack missed half of its 14 chances at the line on a night when the Orange offense was totally out-of-sync against State’s defense.
T.J. Warren, the Pack’s best player and shooting 70 percent at the line for the season, missed three of four during the game.
James Michael McAdoo, Carolina’s best interior player, is down to 52.5 percent for the season and has been to the line 90 more times than any of his teammates. In the seven losses, he’s struggled even more, going 23-58 (39.6 percent).
In its 69-67 escape against Maryland on Saturday in Durham, Duke’s defense was formidable, but the key to the outcome was the line. Duke sank 28 of 34 (82.4 percent) while Maryland missed seven of 19 (63.2 percent).
Watching some of these ACC teams on the free throw line, I think of the late Jim Valvano. He would have loved to coach in the league this season and been able to use his famed “Foulvano” tactics that worked so well in State’s 1983 NCAA title season.
Valvano simply would keep his team close until the game’s final four or five minutes and then repeatedly put the opponent on the line at crunch time.
“The more they miss at the line, the more we need to give ‘em chances to miss,” Valvano often said.