Ever since the Kentucky Wildcats Basketball team lost to the Arkansas Razorbacks on Tuesday night, the focus has been on a couple of things: poor officiating and free throw shooting. It has been well documented that the officiating was HORRIBLE in the Arkansas game on both side and many national pundits even blasted the officiating. Some Kentucky fans have gone further to suggest that there is a secret organization of officials that hate John Calipari and will do anything to screw him out of a win. I hate blaming games on officiating but I do know that even with this illuminati type of officials organization, Kentucky could still have overcome that only if they had hit their free throws. And so we enter the big free throw conversation and delve into whether John Calipari even cares about free throws, whether he is doing enough in this area, and the fact that good players can be bad free throw shooters.
Kentucky has lost four basketball games by a total of 16 points this year and the biggest argument I am seeing is the Kentucky would be undefeated now if not for their free throw shooting. In those games, the Wildcats have gone 87-142 from the line for a less than stellar 61.27%. That is pretty dreadful, but all of the losses can not be blamed on just free throws. If Kentucky had shot a respectable 70% in these games, that would have resulted in 12 more points. If the Wildcats would have hit 70% in all of those games, it would have resulted in 5 more points against Michigan State, 4 more verses Baylor, 1 more verses North Carolina, and 2 more verses Arkansas. So we can say that they would have beaten Michigan State and tied Arkansas, but obviously free throws are not the only problem with this team.
John Calipari is also trying to preach this to the Big Blue Nation and he has been quoted as saying “It’s just not free throws” and for the most part, Calipari is right. And as fans, we obsess over free throws because it is something we can not fathom. How can a good basketball player be so bad at free throws? That is the million dollar question that has plagued coaches ever since free throws were instituted.
Looking at the numbers, you can say that the missed free throws are not losing the game by percentage, but they DO cost the team possessions. Let’s say that Julius Randle is fouled going up for a shot in the paint which he would usually make. If he misses the front end of a one and one, that is a blown possession and as bad as a turnover. Add those up and yes, free throw shooting is costing Kentucky games.
For his credit, Calipari has been historically consistent on the subject of free throws, even when he was at Memphis:
Memphis, though the third-worst free-throw-shooting team in college basketball during the regular season, tends to hit them when it matters most, the Tigers coach points out. And if they don’t … well, Calipari isn’t anguishing.
“We’ve been about the same for three years. What has been our record for three years?” he said. (Answer: 99-9.) “It’s something I don’t spend a lot of time with.”
What people don’t understand,” Calipari said, “is we have made more free throws than our opponents have made. … Obviously, the point of this is to score more baskets and more points than them. And we’ve done that.”