Watch the line: Jayhawks need to improve free-throw shooting in weeks ahead
Basketball purists watching Kansas the past couple of games most likely noticed the Jayhawks missing out on easy points in their previous two outings.
KU shot 70 percent or better at the free-throw line in its first four games of the season, but the Jayhawks’ numbers took a nose dive in the Maui Invitational championship game against Vanderbilt. Kansas won its third game in three nights despite making just 12 of 22 at the charity stripe (54.5%).
But then the bottom fell out Tuesday night at Allen Field House, against Loyola Maryland, when the Jayhawks (5-1) connected on just 12 of 26 freebies.
The back-to-back poor outings have dropped KU’s free-throw percentage through six games to 69.3%. Not terrible, but not exactly ideal, either.
A little slump? Or a trend in the wrong direction? We’ll have to wait and find out. Free-throw shooting will at the very least be an interesting sub-plot in the coming weeks, as KU heads into Big 12 play in January.
As of Thursday, Kansas ranked 160th in the nation in free-throw percentage — basically middle of the pack, among 346 Division I programs. For a point of reference, national leader St. Bonaventure is hitting 84.4%.
We’re dealing with some small-to-very-small sample sizes, but seven of KU’s top 12 players currently are shooting below 70 percent at the foul line:
- Perry Ellis: 22-for-32, 68.8%
- Wayne Selden Jr.: 15-for-23, 65.2%
- Landen Lucas: 9-for-13, 69.2%
- Svi Mykhailiuk: 4-for-6, 66.7%
- Carlton Bragg: 2-for-5, 40%
- Cheick Diallo: 1-for-4, 25%
- Lagerald Vick: 1-for-4, 25%
Of those, Ellis and Selden are the most troubling, because they will continue to be the Jayhawks getting to the line the most — along with Frank Mason III (and possibly Diallo). But they also possess the offensive prowess necessary to improve, perhaps drastically so.
Selden shot just 5-for-10 against Vandy, missing four straight at the line in the final minute. So that’s where his potentially skewed numbers come from. And while you can’t rule out tired legs as the reason for his struggles on that night, nobody’s legs will feel fresh come February and March.
The junior guard, who has otherwise shot the ball great (54.8% field goals, 57.1% 3-pointers), will need to improve on his career free-throw numbers to make the best offensive impact possible. Selden shot 62.9% on free throws as a freshman and upped that percentage to just 65.7% his sophomore season. His stroke and strength make you wonder why he hasn’t broken the 70% barrier, but the way he has approached this season so far makes you think he is capable of busting through and becoming an even more well-rounded player.
A junior forward, Ellis on three occasions this season has missed three free throws and shot less than 60 percent: 2-for-5 vs. Michigan State, 3-for-6 vs. Chaminade and 4-for-7 vs. Loyola.
He’s mostly been hot or cold, though. In his other three games combined, Ellis is 13-for-14 (92.8%).
The real Perry Ellis probably exists somewhere between those two extremes. The 6-foot-8 senior from Wichita shot 73.8% as a freshman, 76.3% as a sophomore and 73% as a junior. Like Selden, he’s capable of better, and KU needs him to be.
The upcoming slate of non-conference opponents will mostly be easy enough for KU to get by with average to mediocre free-throw shooting, but games will get tighter and victories harder to come by before you know it.
In the past five years for coach Bill Self, the Jayhawks have made:
- 72.4% in 2014-15
- 71.1% in 2013-14
- 73.3% in 2012-13
- 69.2% in 2011-12 (a Final Four team)
- 67.9% in 2010-11 (Elite Eight team)
As KU has proven in that span, free-throw success doesn’t necessarily correlate perfectly with postseason advancement, but KU polishing up on its 15-foot open looks in the weeks to come will only help the Jayhawks down the road.
We’ll see in the weeks and months to come if the rest of the team can catch up with the Jayhawks who are off to better starts at the stripe (and if these guys can keep it up):
- Mason, 19-for-24, 79.2%
- Jamari Traylor, 11-for-14, 78.6%
- Devonté Graham, 10-for-12, 83.3%
- Brannen Greene, 7-for-8, 87.5%
- Hunter Mickelson, 3-for-4, 75%
Mason entered the season as a 74.4% shooter, Graham shot 72.4% as a freshman, Traylor made just 62.1% combined in his previous three seasons, Greene (89.6% past two years) is the best shooter on the team and Mickelson, since a 51.6% season as an Arkansas freshman, has hit at an 82.8% clip.