January 15, 2014
Lots of talk about the FTs against Arkansas, so I wanted to dig a bit deeper.
First, let's look at just this one game. Kentucky made 26 of 40, a 65 percent clip that's pretty much right in line with their season average (65.9 percent). So really, you can't be upset about them missing that many FTs, because it's exactly how many UK should have missed, going by their own average performance.
Now, maybe you think UK can be better than 65.9 percent at the line. I think so too, especially because guys like James Young (67 percent) and Alex Poythress (51.9 percent) seem like they could be better.
But will they be? Looking back at the last four years, there seems to be a trend, which is: you pretty much are what you are when it comes to free throws at this stage of the season.
I took six-game rolling averages throughout each of the past four year to see how the team's free-throw percentages fluctuated over the course of a season. Some were consistently great all year (the Final Four and title teams) and others went from good to bad (the first team, which plummeted toward the tournament, and last year's, which were just pretty bad throughout).
And here's this year's.
They actually hit a prolonged stretch of near-70 percent shooting in the middle of non-conference play, and it would be excellent if this team could return to that range for the tournament. But it seems like they're settling into a mid-60s team, and that five percent difference does matter.
As we saw in 2011, averages certainly don't preclude teams from having disastrously bad single-game performances. But I'd rather have a 70 percent team than a 65 percent team. The question is whether this team is already at its average, or whether it can actually improve.