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Virginia, Syracuse On Historic Pace From The Line

Both teams are shooting free throws extremely well

NCAA Basketball: Georgetown at Syracuse
 Jan 9, 2021; Syracuse, New York, USA; Syracuse Orange guard Joseph Girard III (11) shoots a free throw during the first half against the Georgetown Hoyas at Carrier Dome. 
Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports

The free throw is the most immutable element in basketball, executed from a standstill at a 15-foot distance from the basket and without active defensive pressure.

Those basics are unchanged since 1895, when the foul line was moved in from 20 feet. Who shoots free throws, and how many are awarded given the playing circumstances, have shifted over time, but the shot itself is unvarying regardless of player size, athleticism, stamina or any other factor.

Which makes it all the more impressive that, in this era when coaches and commentators bemoan a decline in players’ shooting mechanics and acuity, a pair of 2021 ACC teams are among the top four at converting foul shots in the conference’s 68-year history.

Through 16 games Virginia led the ACC and ranked second nationally in team free throw percentage at .8148. If the Cavaliers maintain that accuracy to season’s end they would set a new conference record, eclipsing the .8003 achieved by Notre Dame in 2017.

Syracuse at .7926 ranked second in the ACC, ninth among Division I teams after playing 16 games. If the Orange conclude the season shooting that well at the line they would stand fourth all-time among ACC squads.

Since taking up varsity basketball in 1905-06 the best the Cavs shot at the line prior to this season was .768 in 1979. Syracuse, which played its first game in 1900, set the school mark for free throw percentage in 1984 at .751.

The majority of ACC teams (9 of 15) are making a higher percentage of their foul shots this year versus 2020. This could be an unexpected side-effect of COVID lockdowns and postponements, yielding more in-season time for individual work on mechanics in controlled, supervised settings.

Just for the record, no player for either Syracuse or Virginia ranks among the top 50 in Division I free throw percentage this season through games played this past Saturday.

Four of five Orange starters were hitting at least .840 at the line through Feb. 5, and three of UVa’s starters were likewise converting at least at an .810 rate. The best of the bunch officially was SU’s Marek Dolezaj, third in the ACC with .850 accuracy on 60 attempts. That was too low to appear among NCAA leaders and was second among his teammates. (Buddy Boeheim was best at .882.)

Florida State’s MJ Walker leads all ACC foul shooters and ranks No. 13 among DI players with .904 accuracy.

Top Team Free Throw Percentages In ACC History
(2021 Through Games Of Feb. 6, 2021)
FT% School Year FTM-FTA Record Coach
.815 Virginia 2021 154-189 13-3 T. Bennett
.800 Notre Dame 2017 489-611 26-10 M. Brey
.799 NC State 2004 481-602 21-10 H. Sendek
.793 Syracuse 2021 237-299 10-6 J. Boeheim
.791 Duke 1978 665-841 27-7 B. Foster
.785 Duke 1973 496-643 12-14 B. Waters
.783 North Carolina 1984 551-704 28-3 D. Smith
.778 Wake Forest 2017 619-796 19-14 D. Manning
.777 Louisville 2019 534-687 20-14 C. Mack