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When Foul Is Sweet: Great ACC Teams From The Line

And none have been better than Virginia was last season

South Carolina v Virginia
CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA - DECEMBER 22: Kihei Clark #0 of the Virginia Cavaliers takes a foul shot during a college basketball game against the South Carolina Gamecocks at John Paul Jones Arena on December 22, 2019 in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

Nattering on about lost skills and the deleterious effects of pickup games and summer ball seems to have waned. Probably folks just got tired of talking about it.

In truth, there been some particularly striking recent displays of skill in the ACC. Consider, for instance, excellence executing that immutable staple of scoring, the free throw, executed from a standstill at a 15-foot distance from the basket without facing active defensive pressure.

Five of the ACC’s nine best-shooting free throw squads, the majority, played over the past half-decade.

Success at the foul line was most strikingly achieved last season at Virginia, known for its deliberate offense and its field goal and scoring defense under Tony Bennett. Observers may need to add UVa’s free throw shooting acumen to that bill of particulars: in 2021 the Cavaliers reached unmatched heights at the line.

Last year Bennett’s Boys made at least 70 percent of their foul shots for the seventh consecutive season, matching a program streak established from 1970 through 1975. Most impressive, the Cavs’ .816 acuity was not only best in school history, surpassing the .762 mark established in 1979, but the best ever in the ACC, eclipsing the .800 mark set by Notre Dame in 2017.

(Note that three Virginia players who averaged at least 27 minutes per game last season hit at an .837 clip or better from the line, yet failed to qualify among the official league leaders due to insufficient conversions. Neither Sam Hauser, Jay Huff or Trey Murphy are back in ’21-22.)

The Cavs’ 2021 line dancing made them only the fifth UVa squad in 68 ACC seasons to pace the conference in free throw shooting, after 1958, 1979, 1999 and 2016.

ACC champs finished as the league’s best foul shooters a dozen times over the years – eight times by Duke (1964, 1978, 1980, 1982, 2000, 2006, 2010, 2011) and once each by NC State (1956), UNC (1981), Wake Forest (1995) and now Virginia.

Syracuse, often handicapped by weak foul shooting, likewise set a school record at the line last year with .782 acuity but finished just out of the league’s first division.

Top Team Free Throw Percentages In ACC History
FT% School Year FTM-FTA Record Finish
.816 Virginia 2021 235-288 18-7 first
.800 Notre Dame 2017 489-611 26-10 second, tie
.799 NC State 2004 481-602 21-10 second, tie
.791 Duke 1978 665-841 27-7 second
.785 Duke 1973 496-643 12-14 fourth, tie
.783 North Carolina 1984 551-704 28-3 first
.782 Syracuse 2021 372-476 18-10 eighth
.778 Wake Forest 2017 619-796 19-14 tenth
.777 Louisville 2019 534-687 20-14 sixth, tie