The Big Short: Free Throw Shooting in the NCAA

This is a giftToday is the first of March and, to me, that means March Madness is here. Since I wrote Make Every Free Throw, I’ve been following each of the Final Four favorites every year. A while back, I read a piece in the New York Times that talks about what I wrote in my book, which was that free throw statistics in the NCAA haven’t changed much since the 1960’s.

I like to say that a free throw is a gift. It is astounding to me that more players are not taking advantage of this gift that comes in the form of a foul. According to the NCAA’s current free throw percentage rankings (2015-2016 season), the difference between the number 1 ranked team and the number 4 ranked team is less than 2 percent. You may only get a few free throws each game, but add up all of the free throws in each game and the point spreads add up. That small difference in free throw percentages becomes the big difference between winning a championship and going home disappointed.

Take a look at Villanova coach Jay Wright’s free throw shooting drills. The results speak for themselves: Villanova is currently ranked number 1 in the NCAA in free throw shooting percentages. The drills that Coach Wright uses are pretty much in line with the advice I often give to coaches in clinics. For more of my free throw shooting tips — for players and coaches — download my video Make Every Free Throw.

March Madness: Free Throws Help Kentucky Upset Louisville in Sweet 16

harrison-kentucky-free-throwAfter recently retooling our website, one of the biggest points we make is that, since clutch games are decided by only a few points, free throws can win or lose the game, and make the difference between whether or not a team advances. And what better example of that than a the recent Sweet 16 game yesterday between Kentucky and Louisville for this year’s March Madness? Favored Louisville was upset by Kentucky, in large part due to free throw shooting. has the details:

Aaron Harrison hit a 3-pointer for the go-ahead score with 39 seconds left and Julius Randle made a pair of clutch free throws to lift the fantastic freshman of Kentucky to a 74-69 victory over their in-state rivals.

We’ll be keeping our eyes on the free throw shooting for the rest of this series. It wouldn’t surprise us to find that free throws play a key role in more close games as we come down to the final four.