There’s an adage in baseball: The ball will find the hole.
What it means is, if you have a weak fielder, invariably the ball will get hit to him.
Similarly, in college basketball, if you have a weakness, the NCAA Tournament will magnify it.
With that in mind, it would behoove West Virginia to dramatically improve its performance at the free-throw line.
The Mountaineers are a solid basketball team. They’re ranked 16th and are one of the best defensive and rebounding teams in the nation. They’re also among the nation’s worst free-throw shooters.
It’s been a problem all year and it’s been particularly bad the past two games. The Mountaineers shot a combined 54.8 percent from the charity stripe in their loss to Kansas and win over Oklahoma State. It didn’t hurt the Mountaineers against the Cowboys. It was fatal against Kansas.
The Jayhawks weren’t great at the foul line, but they made seven more shots than WVU.
Kansas won the game by seven.
Unfortunately, despite the online coaches in social media comment sections, this is a problem without an easy solution. In fact, it’s likely a problem without any tangible solution.
“(West Virginia coach Bob) Huggins needs to teach these guys how to shoot free throws!” Well, thank you Facebook comment guy. I guess a coach who’s won 872 games never realized this. Quick, someone get Huggins this comment ASAP! Maybe Huggins could take a page from the coaching strategy of Mr. Burns https://youtu.be/Nv-FcxlEMaw.
Huggins teams aren’t usually good free-throw shooters. That’s not surprising because Huggins team aren’t usually good shooters, period. That’s not the type of style he plays and not the type of player he recruits. Huggins teams are defense and rebounding centric. He recruits that, practices that and coaches that. It stands to reason that a team that struggles shooting from the field would also struggle from the foul line. Both involve the skill of shooting.
This year’s WVU squad is worse than most at the foul line. But that, too, isn’t surprising. During the Jevon Carter/Daxter Miles era, the Mountaineers were more guard oriented than they were post-play focused.
This team, by contrast, is heavily post-centric, led by big forwards freshman Oscar Tshiewbe and sophomore Derek Culver. Traditionally, big men are worse free-throw shooters than guards. It stands to reason that a team which runs much of its offense through its big men would fare worse at the foul line than one that is guard heavy.
But even with all these caveats, the Mountaineers do need to improve their foul shooting. Ranking 306th in free-throw percentage is a recipe for disaster.
And that recipe could be baked into NCAA Tournament heartbreak.