My grandfather observed a truth about Bobby Knight’s Indiana teams, they typically made more free throws than their opponents attempted. Our Illini, at least in big games, tend to shoot fewer free throws than their opponents make.
Tonight our Fighting Illini lost by 6 to #10 Michigan State. They were up most of the game, until they fell apart with about five minutes to play. Part of the loss was a few bad bounces and tough breaks. Also, Michigan State is one of the toughest venues in college basketball, tonight they extended their third-longest home winning streak to 28 straight games.
This year the Illini are a lot of fun to watch. They play extremely unselfish basketball and lead the Big Ten in assists. While our team has very good shooters, and our shooting percentage is much higher than last year, I’m disappointed that we seem to rely almost exclusively on jump shots. They could become a great team, but one key to winning is getting a little more aggressive about taking the ball to the basket.* This is especially important in the Big Ten conference. To win the Big Ten a team needs to draw fouls, get opponents into foul trouble, get to the free throw line and make free throws. And this team can make free throws, their problem is getting to the line.
Since many of our wins this season came from powder-puff-school-for-the-blind type teams, I’m going to focus on the big games, the kind of games that determine if a team is good, or if a team is “special.”
Note the Free Throw shooting in the following games, particularly the number of free throws attempted:
Dec. 2, Illinois lost by 2 to Clemson
When Illinois is making 87.5% of its free throws, getting to the line a few more times could have easily swung the game
Dec. 30, Illinois beats #9 Purdue 71-67 in overtime.
The stats don’t tell the full story in this one. In the first 20 minute half, Illinois shot 0 free throws, in the second 20 minute half they shot only 3. The other 11 attempts came in overtime.
(Illinois shot no free throws in the first half, three in the second half, and 11 in the 5 minute overtime)
Jan. 4, Illinois lost by 10 to #24 Michigan
That isn’t a typo. The Illini only got to the free throw line 3 times. In this game there was a noticable tendancy of the Wolverines to go one on one against our guards and get to the rim. They drew a lot of falls with these hard drives to the cup.
Jan. 15, Illinois beats #24 Michigan by 14
Illinois was a little more aggressive, especially Brock and Tisdale. Big Mike Tisdale pounded Michigan in the post and attempted 5 free throws, Brock’s drives to the basket were rewarded with 6 free throw attempts.
Jan. 17, Illinois lost by 6 to #10 Michigan State
Mich. State: 16-23
Part of the problem was Tisdale’s lack of production, he wasn’t enough of a low post threat to draw many fouls. Also 2 of Illinois 13 free throws were from a Technical Foul on Michigan State’s coach. My favorite stat of the night was that the ref who gave Coach Izzo a T has given him T’s in 4 of the last 5 games.
*Admittedly, “taking the ball to the basket” doesn’t tell the story by itself, offensive rebounds, steals, shooting percentages, turnovers, officiating style, and other factors contribute to how much a team gets to the free throw line compared to the competition, but an aggressive offensive mentality is certainly an important factor.