Villanova Pre-Game Blog

Jan. 16, 2010

“If you want to pull the upset, you got to make your free throws.”

It was during the first weekend of the 2007 Tournament that I adopted this mantra, repeatedly said throughout the weekend by the Hoya Blue members in attendance, as a key way to understand low seed-high seed games in the Tourney. I remember watching the Tourney’s opening rounds in Kernersville and Winston-Salem, NC, where the Hoyas would advance past Belmont and Boston College to open their Final Four run. Specifically it was the Xavier-Ohio State game where a missed second free throw opened the door for Ron Lewis to save the Buckeyes, with a long three-pointer to send the game to overtime where Ohio State would pull away. At the time, I was just hoping to see the Buckeyes lose for pure schadenfreude. Two weeks later in Atlanta, Justin Cage’s errant toss loomed a lot larger after Ohio State ended the Hoyas’ season.

Free throws have played an important part in recent Georgetown-Villanova history. Last year in Philadelphia, the Wildcats visited the sin stripe 27 times, scoring 21 of their 56 points from the line. Two years ago at Verizon, Jon Wallace famously knocked down two free throws with one-tenth of a second left to beat the Wildcats 55-53. The year before, Jeff Green followed his leaning jumper with 19 seconds left with two free throws to extend the Hoyas’ lead to 58-55, the ultimate final score.

With the exception of Big East Tournament matchups, you can probably expect a relatively strong narrative to emerge when the Hoyas and Wildcats get together: free throws will be of particular importance, especially when both teams might have a violent aversion to scoring more than 60 points.

Statistically, the Wildcats have been remarkably nondistinct—at 15-1, they have certainly earned their #4 ranking in the polls, yet the numbers say they are not exceptional at any one component of the game. Their highly efficient offense (ranked 5th in the country per Ken Pomeroy) is fueled by above-average shooting, a strong presence on the boards, ball control, and free throw shooting. One point where the Wildcats have been particularly noticeable is their tendency to commit fouls (21.3 per game, 32nd most in the country) and allow opponents’ to get to the line; their ratio of opponents’ Free Throw Attempts to Field Goal Attempts is among the highest in the country.

So far this year, the Hoyas are 71.3% from the line, about in line with last year’s performance and better than any of the Green-Hibbert-Wallace years. Personally, I’m hoping the Hoyas have been spending a little extra time at the line in practice this week.

Paul Campbell (MSB '08)

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