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Alabama Basketball: Crimson Tide Needs to Shoot More Free Throws


The Alabama Crimson Tide basketball team has started the season 2-0, and will continue play in the 2K Sports Classic this weekend at Madison Square Garden in New York, with its first game Thursday night against the Oregon State Beavers.

Over the past several years head Coach Anthony Grant has instilled a culture of disciplined, hard-nosed play. His players have bought into the concept of team defense:  Last year, the Crimson Tide allowed opponents only 58.1 points per game, which was ninth best nationally.

Offensively, however, Alabama consistently struggled to score.  The Tide only averaged 64.7 points per game, which ranked 239th in the country. Part of this had to do with ‘Bama’s lack of consistent three-point shooting. Part of it was personnel issues stemming from disciplinary action taken by Coach Grant.

Perhaps a less obvious statistic attributed to the Tide’s scoring limitations last year, is free throw attempts.  Alabama averaged 18.9 attempts per game last year, which ranked 220th out of 347 college basketball teams.

With only five more attempts per game, Alabama could have joined the likes of Kentucky, Indiana, Duke, and North Carolina in the top 30 of this category, as they all averaged over 23 attempts a game.

So why exactly is shooting as many free throws as possible so important? Alabama’s smothering defense is enough to keep them in games, but they lack the transcendent scoring talent to hang with high powered offenses.  The Tide can compensate for this by getting to the free throw line as many times as possible. By doing this the Tide can achieve several things:

Scoring Efficiency

Shooting and making free throws is the most efficient way to score in basketball. Theoretically, a team should want to shoot free throws on every single time down the court. Dean Smith, the legendary former coach of North Carolina, believed a team’s goal on offense should be to average .85 points per possession. Every time a team makes a free throw, they have been, statistically speaking, very successful for that possession.

More Opponent’s Fouls Issued

Free throws are result of fouls called against the other team, and the more fouls they have, the higher the likelihood that their players will have to sit on the bench due to foul trouble. And, as the fouls add up throughout the course of a half, a team in the bonus will begin to shoot free throws for non-shooting fouls.

Limiting Opponent’s Fast Break Ability

When your opponent has to line up for free throws, it limits their transition play. If you are playing an opponent like Louisville who loves to run up and down the court, getting to the line often is a great way to help slow and control the tempo of the game. By shooting free throws, you are helping your offense and your defense simultaneously. It is much easier to set up your defense, and possibly ambush your opponent with a full court press. A team shooting free throws controls the tempo of the game.

‘Bama shot a respectable 71 percent from the line last year. This year, Alabama is ranked No. 1 in the country in free throw percentage, shooting 100 percent! However, they are ranked 271st in free throw attempts per game with only 14. Getting to the free throw line needs to be a bigger priority for this team.

In order to get to the line more, Alabama needs to attack on offense: Attack off the dribble, attack by feeding the post, attack when rebounding offensively. Teams who are passive offensively seldom shoot enough free throws, and have trouble winning close games. Teams who are constantly on the attack are the teams who get fouled the most, and are rewarded with more free scoring opportunities.

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  • Bruce Henthorn

    Excellent points. Few things compound to help a team as much as an advantage in free throws. The fouling team must often revert to a contain type of defense which yields better looks and forces fewer turnovers. And sometimes this dial down in defensive agressiveness carries over to the offensive end resulting in a less vigorous attacking style. Obviously getting to the line helps your offense. But it may help your defense as well!