DePaul is the worst free throw shooting team in the country. Now, I know that it seems strange that I'd bring this up right after the Blue Demons shot 11 of 13 (including Will Walker's 7-7) from the line in a close loss to Cincinnati on the road, but actually that phrase "close loss" is exactly the reason I bring it up.
When the Blue Demons were losing to Big East teams by an average of 17 points per game during their first 7 conference games it didn't matter how bad the free throw shooting was. There were bigger problems that had to be fixed before the Blue Demons began concentrating on the line. Now that the margins have begun to tighten, it is time for DePaul to think about the importance of free throw shooting.
How important is it? If DePaul had hit all their free throws again Syracuse and Rutgers the Blue Demons would have two more conference wins. If they had made all of their free throws against Louisville the Blue Demons probably would've won that game as well. There were 9 misses in a 9-point loss, but a few of those were the front ends of 1-and-1's. It's a costly problem now because DePaul is playing better.
The problem is, this doesn't seem like a problem that'll be easily fixed. And here's why.
It seems like the Blue Demons just can't shoot. For instance, take the aforementioned Walker. He's supposed to be this team's best shooter. Here are his free throw percentages during his collegiate career:
- Freshman: 78.3%
- Sophomore: 66.7%
- Junior: 65.8%
- Senior: 72.0%
Those aren't exactly stellar free throw numbers. For the record, Donald Sims of Appalachian State leads the nation in free throw shooting this season at 94.8%.
You know who the best free throw shooters are on the team percentage wise? Walk-ons Nate Rogers and Ryan Siggins. Rogers actually shoots a pretty respectable 83.3% from the line. The regular with the best free throw shooting percentage? Mike Stovall at 74.1%.
This is another reason why Devin Hill insistence on floating to the three-point line earlier this season drove me insane. Hill shoots 39.5% from 15 feet away with no one guarding him. What makes him think he'll knock down the three with any regularity? The other two very low percentage culprits are Eric Wallace (35.3%) and Tony Freeland (39.0%). Wallace's number by the way ranks him 1,812th amongst NCAA Division I players.
Numbers like that make you question the strategy that was in place at DePaul under Jerry Wainwright. If the goal of the game of basketball is to put the basketball in the hoop, why was he recruiting players that can't even shoot free throws? Athleticism helps, but it's not the end-all.
There is no easy fix to this team's free-throw shooting woes. It seems to have more to do with skill than will. But how did DePaul let this happen?