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How big of a concern is Indiana’s free throw shooting?

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The Hoosiers have struggled at the stripe in the early goings. Is it a big deal?

NCAA Basketball: Indiana at Duke Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports

Free throws, in theory, should be the easiest shot in basketball. There aren’t any defenders. It’s a straight shot from the hoop with no obstructions in the player’s line of sight. A player can do what they need to do before an attempt, whether it’s a pattern of dribbles or a different ritual. There is a reason that they’re called “free” throws.

So far this season, Indiana has failed to capitalize at the stripe, squandering easy opportunities for points with regularity. Through the season’s first eight games, the Hoosiers are converting on a paltry 62.4 percent of attempts from the stripe, which is No. 318 in the country. For comparison, Indiana is No. 90 in the country in Free Throw Rate at 39 percent.

Is it reason for concern? Is it just a small sample size that will revert to the mean? Is it a combination of both? The third option is probably your answer, but let’s examine what has plagued the Hoosiers early on.

To start, the players that are getting to the line the most aren’t converting. Romeo Langford leads the team in attempts per game at 6.8, but he’s only converting on 68.5 percent of his tries. At first glance, that may raise some eyebrows. But Romeo went just 5-11 from the stripe in the season’s opener, and followed it up with a 1-3 outing in the subsequent outing. Exclude those first two games and he’d be converting on 77.5 percent of his attempts. That’s a good example of a likely reversion to the mean.

Justin Smith and Juwan Morgan are the other two players that get to the line the most, coming in at 4.0 and 3.1 attempts per game, respectively. Smith is hitting just 62.5 percent, and Morgan has been even worse at just 44 percent. Morgan was just a 63.1 percent shooter last year, which was a decline from 73.9 percent in his sophomore year.

De’Ron Davis, who struggled at the stripe last year, hasn’t been able to find his rhythm this year either. He’s shooting under 60 percent from the line for the second straight year, coming in at 57.9 percent thus far.

There have been a few Hoosiers that have capitalized on their free chances early on. Devonte Green and Al Durham are both hitting above 80 percent, which is a positive sign coming from two of the team’s primary ballhandlers. Evan Fitzner is also hitting 75 percent of his attempts.

So does this mean anything? Well, yes and no. One good or bad game can swing a player’s percentage in either direction. The same thing goes for the overall team average. A strong showing in a particular game could boost the average, making much of this article pointless.

However, if you observe the track record of Archie Miller coached teams, you may raise your eyebrows. Take a look at how Archie Miller’s teams have fared at the charity stripe dating back to his first season at Dayton:

Archie Miller Team FT Shooting

Year FT% Kenpom Rank National Avg Difference
Year FT% Kenpom Rank National Avg Difference
2019 62.4% 318 69.3% -6.9%
2018 65.7% 331 71.4% -5.7%
2017 69.3% 215 70.4% -1.1%
2016 66.8% 293 70.0% -3.2%
2015 68.6% 208 69.3% -0.7%
2014 68.1% 247 69.9% -1.8%
2013 71.7% 103 69.4% 2.3%
2012 77.2% 2 69.2% 8.0%
Average 68.7% 215 69.9% -1.1%
Average (No 2012) 67.5% 245 70.0% -2.4%

In his seven full seasons as a head coach, Archie Miller’s teams have only been an above average free throw shooting team twice. Those two seasons were his first two at Dayton. On average, his teams are about a percent lower than the national average. Take out the 2012 in which Dayton was one of the best free throw shooting teams in the country, that margin increases to 2.4 percentage points lower than the national average. His teams have finished in the top 100 in Free Throw Rate in five of the seven full seasons, which makes the subpar performance even more peculiar.

Now, Archie Miller isn’t the one shooting the free throws. It’s on his players to convert. But it raises some questions. Are free throws not being emphasized enough in practices or offseason workouts? Are his rosters being constructed with players that aren’t capable of converting at the line? Is this just a weird quirk that can’t really be explained?

It’s still too early to tell if this team will be like his others. It could end up determining how far this team can really go. Free throws could end up being the difference in a few games, and those games could go on to determine seeding in the Big Ten Tournament, or even the NCAA Tournament.

Free throw shooting will continue to be something that will drive coaches and fans crazy if it doesn’t improve. And for a team that has the potential that this team does, it would be a shame for something as simple as free throws to hold this team back.