The foul line from which players shoot free throws in a basketball game is often referred to as the charity line because it is an uncontested, 15-foot free shot to the basket and, in theory, should be a relatively easy way for good shooters to score points. For some inexplicable reason, however, that is not the way it frequently works out.
Wilt Chamberlain, one of college and pro basketball's most prolific all-time scorers was one of the worst free-throw shooters ever. Of more recent vintage are the "Hack-a-ShaQ" woes of Shaquille O'Neal from the foul line. That could have been because their effective shooting range was inside ten feet.
But then you also have a surprising number of perimeter players and jump shooters who can't shoot a free throw if their life depended on it. It's an amazing phenomenon, really, that some players can seemingly score at will from all over the floor and with hands in their face, but shooting free throws is an entirely different and difficult matter.
It is true that, in the full scheme of things, free throws don't necessarily win or lose games in and of themselves, but with the number of close games that are typical at this time of year, and certainly in NCAA Tournament play, they can easily be the difference between winning and losing.
Missouri is a prime example of a team that shoots well and scores often, and one other huge offensive advantage the Tigers have going for them is that they are not apt to lose leads at the end of games because of poor foul shooting. Because of this, and because Mizzou is not to be overlooked defensively, as well, despite its serious size disadvantage, the Tigers are a legitimate consideration to make it all the way to the Final Four.
Frank Haith's team is led in scoring by its dynamic Kansas City guard duo of senior Marcus Denmon and junior Michael Dixon, Jr., but its most efficient scorer is senior power forward Ricardo Ratliffe, shooting almost 74 percent from the field, the best field-goal percentage in the country. As a team, the Tigers are the third best shooting team in the country, averaging an exceptional 50 percent per game.
If you are able to shoot that well from the field, you aren't going to lose many, if any, games. And the Tigers haven't, dropping only three on their way to a No. 3 ranking in the national polls (they were as high as No, 2 a couple of weeks ago before falling at Oklahoma State). But they are able to add valuable insurance because of their ability to make free throws when they must - at the end of games. Missouri is currently the third best free throw-shooting team in the nation.
Both Denmon and Dixon are in the top 15 in the country in free-throw proficiency, and those of the two guys you will see handling the ball with time running down in tight games for Missouri. Denmon has made 90 percent of his free throws this season, the seventh best among Division I players, and his teammate, Dixon, is an 89 percent foul shooter. And we're not talking about just a few trips to the foul line, either. Denmon has made good on 92 of 102 attempts through 25 games, and Dixon's free-throw accuracy has been achieved on 79 of 89.
As good as the two Missouri players have been at the foul line this year, they aren't even the best in the Big 12. That honor belongs to senior guard Scott Christopherson of Iowa State, who has drained 69 of 76 free throw attempts for an accuracy rate of 91 percent. Jeff Whithey of Kansas, who has been on a scoring roll from the field over the last three games is shooting 85 percent from the foul line, unusual for tall, front-court player, and Steven Pledger, Oklahoma's leading scorer, also is an 85 percent free-throw shooter.
Five Big 12 teams are shooting better than 72 percent from the free-throw line as a team this season, and Missouri (7), Oklahoma State (21) and Baylor (42) are among the best in the country.
It's good to see that in today's game, where the emphasis seems to be on firing up long-range bombs and highlight-reel slam dunks, teams have not forgotten the lost art of free-throw shooting as a means to a much happier end.
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