Entering Sunday’s games, only one of the 12 Big Ten men’s basketball teams was averaging over 70 percent in free-throw shooting. That was Illinois.
There was a time when 70 percent was ho-hum, just a passable number. Now it’s a standard.
Brutal foul-shooting is all around us in the men’s college game. It was illustrated with harshness in Iowa last week. First, the Hawkeyes went 13-of-26 in their 72-63 loss at Ohio State Tuesday. Then Saturday, Iowa State was 10-of-22 from the line in its 73-67 win over Kansas State. K-State was 4-of-9.
These aren’t isolated examples. In fact, it was easy to pore over Saturday’s box scores and find example after example of atrocities committed at the free-throw stripe.
In the storied ACC, Maryland (9-of-16) and Duke (7-of-17) combined to miss foul shots than they made.
Gonzaga and San Francisco were a combined 9-of-19 in their game.
Vanderbilt made 3-of-10 against Missouri.
Northwestern (7-of-16) and Nebraska (12-of-23) were inglorious from the line in the Cornhuskers’ 64-49 win.
Here’s a show-stopper: Mississippi beat Auburn, 63-61, on two free throws by Marshall Henderson with 6.4 seconds remaining. But the Rebels had been 2-of-15 from the line before Henderson stepped up.
Then there’s the curious case of Wisconsin. The Badgers continued their free-throw misadventures Saturday by going 4-of-8 in their 45-44 win (eek!) over Minnesota. That lowered the Badgers’ season free throw percentage to .611, which ranked 335th out of the 347 Division I teams through Saturday’s games. Wisconsin was a 74.1-percent foul-shooting team last season.
Wisconsin was 7-of-18 in its 49-47 loss to Michigan State Tuesday. In Big Ten games, the Badgers are shooting 51.9 percent from the line. That’s horrific!
And it’s not much worse than Purdue, Iowa’s opponent on Sunday afternoon. I’m filing this before the 2:36 p.m. Iowa-Purdue game. I’ll be accused of being a jinx by Hawkeye fans for writing this, but the Boilermakers are a 54.6-percent foul-shooting team in league play. That’s awful!
(UPDATE: Purdue went 12-of-20 against Iowa. The Hawkeyes were 19-of-27. They needed one more good foul shot in regulation. They lost in overtime to the Boilermakers, 65-62.)
What happened to this sport? Has the short attention-span world of ours made it harder for young men to focus on something as basic as sinking free throws?
Great players make free throws. Look at the NBA’s all-time leaders in that category. Steve Nash, Rick Barry, Ray Allen, Reggie Miller, Dirk Nowitzki. Larry Bird was a career 88.6-percent foul-shooter, 10th-best in league history. Kevin Durant, with a lot of career left, has made 88.1 of his foul shots in his NBA tenure.
It’s form, but it’s also focus.
The Kansas State-Iowa State game I saw Saturday was terrific in many regards. The field goal shooting was good. The passing was good. The competitiveness of both teams was great. But the teams combining to go 14-for-31 from the free throw line? That’s rancid!
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