KU’s small-ball creates free throw problems

Kansas’ offense has been excellent this season, but the team has struggled to get to the free throw line.

The offense for the Jayhawks has been the team’s greatest strength, and the stats back it up. KU is averaging almost 87 points per game, ranking them 18th in the nation. That impressive number is due to some excellent shooting, as Kansas is making 51 percent of the shots it takes, which is the 11th-best mark in the country.

The team is also shooting well from beyond the three-point line at 41 percent, good enough for the 21st in the country.

However, when you look at KU’s offensive stats, one number sticks out like a sore thumb: free throw attempts. So far this season, KU has shot only 180 free throws ranking them 347 out of 351 teams in Division-I basketball.

The lack of free throw attempts is something that could come back to haunt the Jayhawks. KU relies heavily on the three-point shot for offense, and on some nights, those shots just don’t fall. That’s when you have to be able to get to the free throw line for some easy points.

KU’s first two losses this season are examples of what can happen when you are missing threes and not shooting free throws. The Jayhawks shot only 25 percent from three in their first loss against Washington and shot eight free throws the entire game.

The Arizona State loss yielded similar results, as KU shot 36 percent from three and shot only seven free throws. On the opposite side, Washington and Arizona State shot 15 and 20 free throws respectively. Fouls were getting called in those two games. KU just wasn’t drawing them like they should.

The Jayhawks playing small ball is likely to blame for the lack of free throw attempts. For nearly the whole season, Kansas has played four-guard lineups. With those guards naturally spending more time on the outside, free throws won’t come as easy as they normally would with two more traditional big men playing together.

KU played small last year as well, but free throw attempts weren’t as much of an issue. That team had Frank Mason and Josh Jackson who were both very good drivers who drew fouls. This year they just don’t have those same kinds of players.

Devonte’ Graham has the ball most often in situations where the clock is winding down. Instead of driving it inside, he is much more likely to pull up for a jumper. While almost any shot is a good for a player of Graham’s caliber, it usually makes more sense to try to get inside and draw a foul. He just isn’t the type of player to put his head down and bully his way to the basket.

Like most of this team’s issues, the addition of big men Silvio De Sousa and Billy Preston (#freebilly) should help relieve the problem. More two-big lineups are to be expected once both players are ruled eligible. Having two big men on the floor should increase the number of free throws as the ball gets pounded inside more and unseen driving lanes start to open up.

Until those additions, KU’s guards need to start making it a priority to force their way into the paint and get to the free throw line.

Jackson Hodges

I’ve been a KU fan as long as I can remember, which I chalk up to my love of basketball and the influence of my brothers. I am a graduate of Oklahoma State, but I routinely wore my blue in Gallagher-Iba (yes, I was that guy). I grew up idolizing Wayne Simien and Christian Moody, and I think the post-entry pass is a lost art. I hope you enjoy my work.