Before Kentucky and Vanderbilt tip off tomorrow night in the conference opener for the two teams, fans from both sides will look to the sky and ask the Gods of Basketball to answer one prayer: “Please, in the sacred name of James Naismith, don’t send us to the free throw line.”
Kentucky fans know all about the importance of free throw shooting. (See Louisville game.) We let out a collective groan every time Willie Cauley-Stein gets fouled on a dunk attempt or when Nerlens Noel steps to the line for a one-and-one. I love those guys, I really do, but I have more confidence in BTI losing his virginity backstage at the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show, to a girl, than I do either of those guys hitting two free throws. That confidence isn’t any better when Ryan Harrow is at the line, either. Harrow has only made half of his free throw attempts this season, which is the second-lowest percentage on the team behind Nerlens’ 54.2%. Kentucky ranks 290th in the nation from behind the stripe.
And then there is Vanderbilt, the Ben Wallace of college basketball. The Commodores couldn’t be any worse from the foul line if you blindfolded them, spun them in circles for 30 seconds, and raised the rim to 15 feet before each shot attempt. To see where Vandy ranks nationally, grab a pencil and write down the names of all 345 college basketball teams in Division 1 basketball, erase UC Riverside, and then you have a list of teams with a better free throw percentage on the season. Vanderbilt is second to last, No. 344 of 345, with an embarrassing 57.9%.
Time and time again, games are won or lost at the free throw line. If that’s the case tomorrow night, we could be in for the John Isner-Nicholas Mahut showdown of college basketball. Like Syracuse and Connecticut in ’09 but without the excitement, just uncontested bricks from 15 feet.
With that said, I hope to see Kentucky utilize the Hack-A-‘Dore if things are too close for comfort in the second half.