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Cleaning Up From The Line

ACC teams that made more free throws than opponents attempted

NCAA Basketball: Duke at Wake Forest
Feb 25, 2020; Winston-Salem, North Carolina, USA; Duke Blue Devils forward Wendell Moore Jr. (0) shoots a free throw during the second half against the Wake Forest Demon Deacons at Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum. 
Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

Most teams prefer to get to the foul line as often as possible, except when they’re trying to run out the clock. They similarly want to keep their opponents from going to the line, where points are, shall we say “free”.

All fairly rudimentary.

What’s unusual, to the point it occurs on average only once per year in the ACC, is a team making more free throws than its opponents attempt. Not just in a game, but across the season. Such a metric is considered by some as a mark of excellence, a questionable assertion.

Josh Pastner’s Georgia Tech program certainly pays heed to this foul shooting ratio, not just seasonally but nightly. Listed following games under “Pastner’s Key Metrics” the Yellow Jackets specifically track four stats: guard rebounding, assists to made field goals, “the turnover battle”, and free throws made compared to opponents’ attempts.

Across a full season since 2015, when Louisville replaced Maryland in a 15-member ACC, eight league clubs in seven years prior to this one converted more free throws than opponents tried. Mostly they’ve come from Duke and Notre Dame, reflective of teams that strike a strong balance between playing stout defense without fouling and executing offense that keeps opponents on their heels.

This season four teams have flirted with that remarkable statistical relationship – Duke, Miami, North Carolina and, improbably, Pitt.

Duke has converted more free throws than rivals cumulatively tried against it in 2022, as it did in 2018, 2016, 2015. This would be the 12th time in 44 years a Krzyzewski team enjoyed this advantage, after 1990, 1992, 1993, 1994, 1999, 2000, 2006 and 2009.

Most strikingly Duke’s 34-2 national champs of 1992 sank a whopping 197 more foul shots than opponents attempted, nearly 5.5 per game.

The Devils are again in the hunt to lead all 2022 ACC clubs in this differential, which would be its fourth time since winning the ’15 national title. Notre Dame has done it three times during that span.

As for evidence an edge in free throws made versus rivals’ tries is a mark of a superior ACC team, that’s hardly been true in recent years.

The two squads that enjoyed this free throw edge lately, Notre Dame in 2019 and Miami in 2021, posted losing records in the ACC and overall.

This year North Carolina continues to flirt with breakeven foul shots made compared to opponents attempted – 375 made versus 380 tried by rivals. Close behind: Miami, 19 made free throws shy of matching opponents’ tries; Syracuse, 25 free throws short; and Pitt, a difference of 29.

Since the ’15 season, of nine ACC teams with more free throws made than opponents attempted (not including ’22), four incurred double-figure losses. Then again, four finished fifth or higher in the league.

By the way, while homage has been appropriately paid to Jim Larranaga’s resurgent Hurricanes, after two losing seasons in the last three when do Mike Brey’s Fighting Irish, picked eighth in preseason by ACC pundits, gain similar plaudits for winning two-thirds of their games and remaining in the race for league leadership?

More Free Throws Made Than Opponents Tried In Entire Season, Since 2015
(2022 Results Through Games Of Feb. 19)
Year School FTM-FTA Opponent
Overall, ACC (Finish)
2022 Duke 346-472 210-320 +26 23-4, 13-3 (1st)
2021 Miami 350-500 224-318 +32 10-17, 4-15 (13)
2019 No Dame 442-594 310-438 +4 14-19, 3-15 (T14)
2018 Duke 562-791 383-526 +36 29-8,13-5 (2)
No Dame 508-670 339-480 +28 21-15, 8-10 (T10)
2017 Clemson 487-666 357-467 +20 17-16, 6-12 (12)
2016 Duke 626-866 387-567 +59 25-11, 11-7 (T5)
2015 Duke 610-673 379-548 +62 35-4, 15-3 (2)
No Dame 561-756 380-533 +28 32-6, 14-4 (3)