The case has been made, successfully and on numerous occasions, that Calipari coached teams aren’t particularly good foul shooters. It is generally understood that Cal doesn’t really have a problem with that, either. While the status quo in the free throw department is more depressing than Lohan in Playboy, how concerned should we really be? The answer seems to be “not very.” At least not in December.
The current free throw percentage is awful. The Cats were just 10-17 (58.8%) from the foul line Saturday. What is worse, their cumulative free throw percentage is just 68%, ranking the Cats at #183 in that category. Kentucky gets away with this because their adjusted offensive efficiency is so high (117, #4) and in their 1 point victory over North Carolina, UK shot 72% from the stripe. While the cumulative FT% is low, it is better than Kentucky’s roundball peers: UNC is ranked #262, Ohio State #177, Wisconsin #219 and the princes of fundamentals, Duke #217. (KenPom.com)
In my pursuit of a Cal quote on the subject, I came across this little gem:
We all know that John Calipari has been criticized by many fans about his team’s lack of elite free throw shooting.
Preceded by this:
The post has all the symptoms of a BTI rant: stand alone stats, words in all-caps and firm footed assumptions. BTI reasons that while Kentucky has lost games in the current and past two seasons due to poor free throw shooting (notably yesterday and in the Final Four loss to UConn), it is rare. BTI cites good evidence in reaching this conclusion. Of course, UK has only dropped 13 games in Cal’s tenure, so finding any meaningful statistical significance is difficult. The point of the post still stands though: despite poor free throw shooting, Cal’s Cats win the vast majority of their contests.
What’s more, we’ve seen these struggles before. John Clay wrote about last year’s edition of this problem in Janurary. If you’ll recall, Kentucky struggled from the charity stripe in the early season, but greatly improved by the Louisville game on New Year’s Eve. This is not to say I hope history repeats itself to the letter here, after all poor free throw shooting cost last year’s team a national title. Rather, and this goes back to BTI’s point, Kentucky’s notoriously young players seem to improve from the line as they adjust to the college game and season.
Only time will tell what changes, if any, Cal will make in response to the poor performance. Maybe he does as Cameron Mills suggests and forces guys to practice more foul shots. Or maybe he will just let time and experience iron out the kinks. For better or worse, this team can afford to struggle at the line through league play and still be very successful. Which is precisely why we should save those worries for March and be honest with ourselves about what really happened on Saturday: Cal and the boys got served a good old fashioned home cooked zebra dinner. We got hosed.