Caulton Tudor

Much of ACC flunking free throws

Posted February 17
Updated February 18

Duke Blue Devils forward Rodney Hood (5) concentrates at the free throw line against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish at Purcell Pavilion at the Joyce Center on January 4, 2014 in South Bend, Indiana. Notre Dame defeated Duke 79-77 in their first-ever Atlantic Coast Conference game. (Lance King/WRAL contributor)

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.

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  • Gunnstigator Feb 20, 7:29 p.m.

    I think they should change the current free throw rules and have players take one shot from the... View More

    — Posted by randdjacobs

    I totally agree with your idea about the shot clock. It makes NO sense to have a 35-second... View More

    — Posted by Gunnstigator

    jgunn.... question: "Should intercollegiate basketball (or any college sport) be so concerned... View More

    — Posted by Objective Scientist

    Good question, OS. I DO think the shot clock rule should be changed, and not just for the small percentage of student/athletes who advance to the next level. I also want to see it changed because it will speed up the game.

    I agree with the end of game fouls - they're all pretty much intentional, but it's part of the strategy, and I've seen teams win games by fouling the other team and putting them on the line.

    Did you really say you were playing a "Devil's Advocate"??? No way! You're too much of a Tar Heel to ever play "that" shade of blue:) Just kidding, it was a good question.

  • Objective Scientist Feb 20, 12:57 p.m.

    I think they should change the current free throw rules and have players take one shot from the... View More

    — Posted by randdjacobs

    I totally agree with your idea about the shot clock. It makes NO sense to have a 35-second... View More

    — Posted by Gunnstigator

    jgunn.... question: "Should intercollegiate basketball (or any college sport) be so concerned about preparing what should be STUDENT-athletes for "play in the pros"? Only a very small percentage of college players advance to that next level... a VERY small percentage. Should we change a rule for that VERY small percentage? That is me playing "Devil's Advocate" to some degree. That said... something needs to be done - NBA aspirations or not - about the last 5 minutes of a game taking so long to complete in close games. Fouls are committed - INTENTIONALLY, and everyone in the arena and watching on TV knows it is intentional to stop the clock and force a free throw- yet it is not ruled intentional... unless you practically "murder" the guy. I'd be for "experimenting" with two free throws for ALL fouls committed in the last 5 minutes of a game... or some such similar adjustment. As is... it is ridiculous and frankly "boring"!

  • Gunnstigator Feb 18, 6:56 p.m.

    I think they should change the current free throw rules and have players take one shot from the... View More

    — Posted by randdjacobs

    I totally agree with your idea about the shot clock. It makes NO sense to have a 35-second clock in college and a 24-second clock in the NBA, all the while the college women have the 24-second clock. It would help to speed up the men's game a lot and better prepare them for play in the pros.

  • randdjacobs Feb 18, 3:10 p.m.

    I think they should change the current free throw rules and have players take one shot from the free throw line and let it count for 2 points (or 3 if fouled beyond the arc). Also, shorten up the shot clock. It would certainly speed things up a bit.

  • jdag Feb 18, 2:28 p.m.

    I think I've noticed that a lot of poor FT shooters shoot too flat. It effectively makes the basket smaller. A higher arc helps with that. Also, they need to soften their shot. My dad (a great player in his day) used to say "put it up there like it's an egg and you're trying not to break it." Higher angle, softer shot, higher percentage.

  • Objective Scientist Feb 18, 2:26 p.m.

    "Much of ACC flunking free throws"
    After this headline you show a Duke player at the line, is... View More

    — Posted by BigBrokeBill

    In addition to perfecting the "mechanics" and the "rhythm" to be a good free throw shooter - the truly good shooter also learns to "build his focus" from the moment the ball is given to him until his release of the shot... such that all the crown noise and accompanying such distractions literally are UN-noticed by the shooter. The good shooter becomes so focused on the task at hand and the "target" that true chaos going on all around him has NO impact of his shot! THAT can be developed with concentrated, focused practice and experience. GOOD shooters DO IT!

  • thomasew Feb 18, 1:51 p.m.

    UNC in particular, except for Paige, the rest of them can't hit the backboard in a free throw, game on the line situation. Can't figure out why they don't get someone to come in a see what is going on, or perhaps get Paige to teach the others how to shoot them.

  • A person Feb 18, 1:33 p.m.

    Much of ACC flunking at life should be more important than their free throw averages

  • lovetheheels Feb 18, 1:16 p.m.

    I remember asking the late Coach John Lotz (former head coach at Florida and long-time assistant at Carolina) about free throw shooting one time while we were working together at UNC. He said that the free throw was the only uncontested shot in the game and the mechanics of which can be mastered with practice and discipline. He said your feet, knees, hips and shoulders should align the same way every time - then, you practice the stroke, release and follow-through. If you have prepared properly and have your eyes fixed on the back of the rim, you should make the shot pretty consistently. I am happy to say that I shared this information with my nephew when he was 12, helped him work it in a few practice sessions and now he is a starting forward with the Youngstown State Penguins, leading his team with an 84% FT average. It just takes some work...wish there were more Coach Lotzes still around.

  • BigBrokeBill Feb 18, 7:57 a.m.

    "Much of ACC flunking free throws"

    After this headline you show a Duke player at the line, is this to imply that Duke is a lousy FT shooting team?

    Aside from the clueless editing, I've noticed that every time an away team takes a FT there's a lot of noise from the stands. Ever shoot a ball in front of a crowd? Even a crowd of friends can be, at the least, distracting. I suspect that more than a couple of these players may be suffering stage fright.

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