The equation, though seemingly simple, is actually uncommon, bordering on rare.
Make more free throws than your opponents attempt, and a team is apt to enjoy a pronounced advantage on the scoreboard. That’s true in a game and across a season and appears to be a likely mark of team superiority.
Since the early 2000s 21 ACC squads, about one per season, enjoyed such an edge.
Between them UNC and Duke, the league’s perennial powers, gained a notable margin in free throws a dozen times in this century, on average better than once every other year. Hubert Davis’ Tar Heels managed the feat in both of his first two seasons at the helm.
Seven other ACC teams held an edge in free throws made versus opponents’ attempts at least once over those years. Mike Brey’s Notre Dame and Jim Larranaga’s Miami squads turned the trick twice each. The Hurricanes were among seven ACC teams with a pronounced free throw edge that reached a Final Four, essentially one in three since 2003.
Six programs — Georgia Tech, Florida State, Louisville, Pitt, Virginia and Virginia Tech — didn’t muscle/insinuate themselves into free throw mastery over that span even once. To be fair, Louisville and Pittsburgh only joined the ACC within the past decade and the Hokies achieved their long-sought, once-uncommon membership in 2005.
Surprisingly, given his calculated approach to the game, Tony Bennett’s teams failed to convert more free throws than opponents attempted in his 14 years at Charlottesville. That includes the Hoos’ national championship squad of 2019, which made 445 foul shots per game but yielded 524.
Meanwhile fast break, interior-oriented Roy Williams had five teams achieve a positive FTM-FTA ratio. All five advanced at least to an NCAA regional final.
All but two of 21 recent ACC teams with a positive margin of free throws made versus opponents’ attempts hit at least 70 percent from the line – the exception being Carolina in 2011 (.672) and Duke in 2015 (.699), when the Devils won the national championship.
Last season was the first in this century in which a trio of ACC teams reached the coveted margin of more free throws made vs. opponents’ attempts.
Miami in ’23 was the 10th of 21 overachievers at the line to finish first during the regular season, but the only one since 2011. It was the second time in the past 3 seasons the Canes achieved that special balance.
THAT SPECIAL BALANCE
ACC Teams This Century With More Free Throws Made Than Opponents Attempted
(Opponents’ Stats Below, Listed In Reverse Chronological Order)
|2023||Miami||531-687||.784||-1||Final Four||1st (T)|
|North Carolina||548-739||.742||+18||Declined NIT bid||7th|
|2022||North Carolina||558-730||.764||+30||NCAA title game|
|Notre Dame||561-756||.742||+28||Final 8||3rd|
|2011||North Carolina||590-878||.672||+10||Final 8||1st|
|2009||North Carolina||739-983||.752||+112||NCAA title||1st|
|2008||North Carolina||738-975||.757||+97||Final Four||1st|
|2007||Boston College||573-791||.724||+84||2nd Round||3rd|
|North Carolina||669-940||.712||+25||Final 8||1st|
|2005||North Carolina||724-998||.725||+35||NCAA title||1st|
|2003||Wake Forest||611-813||.752||+22||2nd Round||1st|