Calling foul on free throws

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Gary Williams was asked again this morning on the ACC teleconference about his team’s free throw shooting. In case you haven’t noticed, it’s one thing Maryland does exceptionally well.

Like to the tune of 79.1 percent good.

And, of course, Williams trotted out his tried-and-true line about taking over responsibility for coaching free throws this season. It might be the one joke Gary constantly recycles, but doesn’t everyone?

OK, back to free throws. In a historical context, this year’s percentage would smash the school record of 75.8 percent in 1975-76. That’s good. But when you stop and think about, shouldn’t Maryland be really good at free throws?

After all, it has three (and arguably four) guards on the floor at nearly all times. The Terps’ starting “center,” Dave Neal, is no one’s definition of a guy who will bang around and get to the line a whole bunch. As evidence, look to his 28 career attempts in 333 minutes (a rate of roughly one every 12 minutes) in his first three season.

In general (but not always), the way to get a higher free throw percentage is to trot out more guards. A smaller lineup – which usually includes better shooters – typically fares better at the foul line than a larger one.

So the foul shots are to a degree a happy side effect of going small. For all the problems it can cause defensively, at least Maryland has some assurance things will look good when the game is decided at the line.

What wasn’t entirely expected was that five of the six players who took at least 10 free throws each of the last two seasons got better. Some (Landon Milbourne) got a little better. Some (Cliff Tucker and Adrian Bowie) got a lot better. Only Braxton Dupree got worse.

Take a look at this comparison between last season and this season, and the numbers bear out this truth (raw numbers used for 10 or fewer attempts):

Player2007-082008-09
Greivis Vasquez
.782.940
Eric Hayes
.852.917
Cliff Tucker
.400.833
Landon Milbourne
.795.810
Dave Neal
2/4.773
Adrian Bowie
.528.745
Dino Gregory
2/36/10
Braxton Dupree
.618.364
Jerome Burney
0/40/2
David Pearman
0/00/0

Yes, Maryland should be better at the foul line because of the lineup it is trotting out. But the Terps still warrant credit individually for their improvements so far.

Patrick Stevens

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