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2017-18 KU free throw issues an eye-popping part of recent trend

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Kansas guard Devonte' Graham sets himself for a free throw during the second half against Stanford, Thursday, Dec. 21, 2017 at Golden 1 Center in Sacramento, California.

Kansas guard Devonte' Graham sets himself for a free throw during the second half against Stanford, Thursday, Dec. 21, 2017 at Golden 1 Center in Sacramento, California. by Nick Krug

As the Kansas men's basketball team prepares to dive into the meat of its 2017-18 schedule, with Big 12 Conference play tipping off Friday night in Austin, Texas, the 11th-ranked Jayhawks (10-2) enter yet another Big 12 title defense with more than a couple of questions.

But few of them — whether about depth, experience, defense or eligibility — loom as large and ring as loud as the question about this team's free throw shooting. Specifically, why don't the Jayhawks shoot more of them?

Twelve games into the 2017-18 season, the Jayhawks have shot just 142 free throws, an average of 11.8 trips to the free throw line per game.

That puts them 42 shy of the number of free throws shot by their opponents during the first 12 games of the season a whopping 160 attempts off the pace of the average number of trips to the line during the past four seasons, when KU's low through 12 games was 262 a year ago, with the high coming in 2013-14, when Andrew Wiggins led the Jayhawks to the line 364 times during the first dozen games of the season.

While those numbers are more than a bit eye-popping — “alarming” was the word KU coach Bill Self recently used to describe it — they should not come as a major surprise.

Sure, the number of trips to the line so far seems low, but the current season marks the fourth consecutive non-conference season in which KU's free throw attempts dropped from the year before it.

In 2013-14, KU went to the line 30.3 times per game in the first 12 games of the season. A year later that number dipped to 25.4 and then again to 23.2 in 2015-16 and 21.8 in 2016-17.

So it's not the fact that the number has declined this season that has Self scratching his head as much as it is the fact that it has declined by so much.

KU's 11.8 free throw attempts per game are 10 fewer than last season's number and almost half as many as in 2015-16.

There was a recent four-game stretch, just prior to KU's win over Stanford last Thursday night, in which the Jayhawks had attempted just 34 free throws in that time. Want some perspective on that number? The Jayhawks attempted 34 or more free throws in a single game eight different times during the previous four seasons.

“We go to Nebraska and, granted, they didn’t shoot free throws either, but we shoot eight free throws against Nebraska and we shoot nine (against Omaha),” Self said. “When is the last time a Kansas team in two consecutive games shot a total of 17 free throws?”

Kansas guard Marcus Garrett puts up a free throw during the second half against Stanford, Thursday, Dec. 21, 2017 at Golden 1 Center in Sacramento, California.

Kansas guard Marcus Garrett puts up a free throw during the second half against Stanford, Thursday, Dec. 21, 2017 at Golden 1 Center in Sacramento, California. by Nick Krug

The answer to that question and to KU's inability to get to the free throw line is not easy to find.

In Self's mind, the easiest way to change the trend and start getting to the line more is by simply driving the ball into the paint with a purpose. But that is easier said than done.

“Who drives it for us to get in there,” Self said. “Devonte' (Graham) does a little bit, but he's not like Frank (Mason) and nobody's like Josh (Jackson). You know, we shoot it pretty well, which can kind of cover some things, but in a tight game where you're not shooting the basketball (well), you have to figure out a way to get to the line.”

For what it's worth, the Jayhawks enter Friday's game at Texas shooting .725 from the line so far this season. But that percentage, while among the better marks in recent Kansas history, did not have Self overly thrilled.

“You better shoot a good percentage because you're not getting to the line ever,” he said.

In their most recent outing, a 75-54 victory over Stanford in Sacramento, the Jayhawks got to the line just 10 times — making six — but did not need the freebies because of the way their defense controlled things.

But that does not mean Self's squad has not spent time talking about and working on ways to increase its free throw attempts.

“I think you can coach it some, but the reality of it is that’s not who we are,” Self said. “Malik (Newman) doesn’t do that. Malik’s shot 11 free throws this year. Eleven! Total. Going into (the Omaha) game, 'Dok (Azubuike) had shot one free throw in his last five games. One! If it’s not for Devonte’, we don’t shoot any free throws, and we should be a decent free throw shooting team.”

KU Season Free Throws Attempted
through 1st 12 games
Free Throw Attempts Per Game
through 1st 12 games
2017-18 142 11.8
2016-17 262 21.8
2015-16 278 23.2
2014-15 305 25.4
2013-14 364 30.3
KU player
through first 12 games
FT made FT attempted FT percentage
Devonte' Graham 33 38 .868
Udoka Azubuike 10 25 .400
Lagerald Vick 17 24 .708
Svi Mykhailiuk 10 14 .714
Mitch Lightfoot 12 14 .857
Marcus Garrett 7 12 .583
Malik Newman 11 11 1.000
Chris Teahan 2 2 1.000
Clay Young 1 2 .500
Sam Cunliffe 0 0 N/A
James Sosinski 0 0 N/A

Comments

Andy Godwin 3 weeks, 4 days ago

In recent years the teams have relied much more on the 3 point shot as apposed to banging inside using Self's bread and butter high-low offense. Matt see if there is an inverse correlate between the number of free throws versus 3 point shot attempts.

Adam Engelbrecht 3 weeks, 4 days ago

It doesn't track exactly like the FT shooting, but yeah we shoot way more three's now than we used to. (numbers bellow are 3PA)

2017-18 933 projected (311 first 12 games - roughly 36 games/year unless we exit early) :::2016-17 787::: :::2015-16 728::: :::2014-15 562::: :::2013-14 556:::

Mike Auer 3 weeks, 4 days ago

The one that is really difficult to figure is Udoka. He is averaging 4.1 dunks per game with almost all of them in the half court and only 2.1 free throws per game. How does he not get clubbed more often when he is putting dunks in at about a 96% rate and free throws at 40%? I guess the two most likely reasons are one because we have not had many close games yet and two because some defenders may think they won't be able to make him miss even if they foul him.

Jay Hawkinson 3 weeks, 3 days ago

Yeah KU definitely would benefit from getting to the line more, but in the case of Udoka we should be careful what we wish for. He is shooting 78% on twos and 40% on free throws. Part of that is Graham has done an excellent job of finding him for alley oops, but overall opposing coaches must either feel like they lack the depth to hack him, or they are using poor strategy. I think Big 12 opponents will make him earn his points at the free throw line much more often.

Damian Glaze 3 weeks, 3 days ago

Don't forget the third reason: he doesn't play as much time because he gets in early foul trouble in the first half. If he could get to 30+ minutes a game, his free throw attempts per game might double.

Aaron Paisley 3 weeks, 4 days ago

I'm surprised how low the FT number was last year considering how aggressive Frank and JJ were driving to the basket.

Joseph Bullock 3 weeks, 3 days ago

Matt Tait, I think that when you shoot a lot of ‘3’, you shoot less free throws! It also seems that in most of the games we have played, teams may be milking the shot clock more, which leads to fewer possessions! Mike Auer, When I’m watching Udoka go up for dunks, I see kids who are intimidated by his raw power-and I know from playing against really big, powerful guys, that sometimes the person that commits the foul, feels the pain created by the brute force, of a much bigger guy! I also believe many teams don’t believe they can stop Udoka from going up and making dunks, even if they foul him, because they simply are not strong enough. However, I do think we are going to see teams start wrapping him up, before he goes up, so he had better work harder on his free throw shooting!

Robert Brock 3 weeks, 3 days ago

The Jayhawks are a soft, jump-shooting team - exactly what Self does not like.

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