Hoosiers struggling to solve free throw woes

As a player, free throws weren’t a problem for Archie Miller.

He was an 84 percent shooter at the line during his time at North Carolina State, making at least 80 percent of his attempts during the four full seasons that he played in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

As a coach — at least at Indiana — free throws aren’t coming as easy.

“When my dad texts me, ‘Hey, you guys better get on a new free throw plan, I say boy, we must be hitting an all-timer if he’s paying attention to it,” a self-deprecating Miller said this week. “We gotta maybe get a free throw coach in here. I thought I was a pretty good free throw shooter, but I’m not a good free throw coach.”

Jocularity aside, free throw shooting is a serious issue for Indiana, one that has already burned the Hoosiers once this season.

As IU continues its build-up to the second half of the season, its success rate at the line is a glaring shortcoming that Miller knows he needs to address.

“I’m concerned about free throw shooting,” Miller said. “It’s one of those things where … you understand how valuable the possessions are when you get fouled and go to the line and you either come up short with two, or you miss the front end of a one-and-one. That’s like a turnover. That’s like an empty possession that you didn’t get anything out of.”

Ten games into the season, IU isn’t getting enough out of those trips to the line. The Hoosiers’ free throw percentage of 63.6 percent ranks 13th in the Big Ten, ahead of only Rutgers on the conference leaderboard. It’s especially frustrating for Indiana given how much it is relying on those opportunities at the line.

And it’s not like IU is struggling to get there.

Per KenPom.com, the Hoosiers rank 82nd nationally and fifth in the Big Ten in free throw rate, which measures the ability to get to the line.

Attacking and drawing contact is part of the soul of this year’s team. Just look at Romeo Langford, whose free throw rate ranks seventh among Big Ten players. Yet at the same time, Langford is shooting only 69 percent on free throws.

He’s not the only one struggling. As far as individual performers, only Devonte Green (8-for-9, 88 percent) and Al Durham (13-for-17, 76 percent) are shooting better than 70 percent.

“We shoot free throws every day,” IU sophomore Justin Smith said. “We’ve just got to keep at it and eventually they’re going to fall down. We’ve just got to keep building our confidence as a team (with) our free throws and just take our time. (When we) get to the line, just make it; it’s free.”

Are the Hoosiers dealing with a mental hurdle when they step to the line?

“It could be,” Smith said. “I really don’t know if it varies. But I mean we’re shooting free throws every day. We’re working on it. It’s a big emphasis that coach is putting into practice, and hopefully as we keep going, we’ll get in a groove on the free throw line and we’ll start knocking them down more consistently.”

As big of a problem as it’s been for IU so far this season, poor free throw shooting isn’t new.

Indiana was a similarly sub-par team at the line during the 2017-18 campaign, when it made merely 65 percent of its attempts to rank 331st nationally and 13th in the Big Ten. Last season, only one major-conference team (Rutgers) fared worse.

Across Indiana’s 31 games last season, the Hoosiers shot 70 percent or better only 11 times.

Through the first 10 games of the current campaign, IU has made at least 70 percent of its free throws just twice.

“I think coaches play mind tricks with their teams and their players where they don’t want to address it or talk (about) it,” Miller said. “But it’s something right now that we have got to find a way to be better at. We’re working on every drill, you’re working on every amount of extra time you have to put the time in. You’re working with players after (practice) as much as you can. But at the end of the day, when they step up there in real time, you just want them to be as confident as (they) can.”

An extra free throw could’ve made the difference already once this season, when IU lost by a point at Arkansas on Nov. 18. The Hoosiers finished 10-for-15 at the line on that afternoon, ultimately dropping a game decided in the final moments.

During IU’s current three-game winning streak, the Hoosiers have claimed their victories by a total margin of five points — and across those three contests, IU has gone 38-for-58 (65 percent) at the line.

Indiana shot 25 free throws in Saturday’s game against Louisville — 12 more than the Cardinals — but made only 16 of those attempts.

“To be able to shoot that many more was a big discrepancy in the game,” Miller said. “We should’ve been able to take more advantage of it.”

As of Wednesday, the Division I average for free throw shooting was 69.5 percent. Eight Big Ten teams are shooting better than 70 percent.

Indiana, of course, is not one of them.

With one-third of the season complete, the Hoosiers have a few clearly-visible flaws. Free throws and turnovers are chiefly among them.

Addressing them sooner than later could make all the difference in IU’s ability to reach its upside down the stretch.

“We’ll keep working at the line,” Miller said. “That, and (cutting) our turnovers offensively make us a team that can really get better as we improve on those two things alone.”

27 comments

  1. Not sure how they practice free throw shooting, but I always thought the best method, assuming they’ve been taught proper technique, was to incorporate shooting free throws into their conditioning drills. Run sprints, stop and shoot free throws. Run more sprints, stop and shoot more free throws. Shooting free throws when you’re rested is worthless. You have to practice when you’re fatigued, when you’re breathing hard and when your legs are not at full strength.

    Some of the Players’ techniques are terrible. Either get a free throw coach or make them watch old tapes of Steve Alford shooting free throws while playing for IU. Alford finished his IU career making 89.8% of his free throw attempts. In his first two seasons at IU, he made over 91% of his free throw attempts. Not too many players that have ever done better than that.

    1. Some of the best coaches I know of felt that standing at the line and shooting countless free throws had limited effect because they don’t simulate game situations.

      Like you suggested, they preferred to stop play and go to the line and shoot freebies in the flow of play.

      1. Chet you and POF have good ideas, but you forget the time limitations for college coaches and players. Get the captains to run some exercises then shoot FT’s during “volunteer” time in Cook Hall.

  2. Remove Juwan and DeRon (27 of 51 combined) …and they’re shooting 68% as a team from the stripe. It’s mainly two guys really stinking it up from the stripe. Justin Smith needs a little work as well. Hmm? All the bigs.

    Romeo has nearly doubled everyone else’s individual attempts. He’s at 49 of 71 nearing 70%. Not great but his numbers will go up as he matures on the court.

    The fact that our bigs are shooting a good amount of free throws is a great sign. We’re getting them the ball. We are being efficient and running an offense. Phinisee makes nice entry passes…Bigs are learning to seal their defenders higher up the paint. One and bonus would be better …but at least we’re getting them the rock.

  3. Juwan & DeRon – Sounds like a 60’s song. I’m so old, 7th grade coach made us shoot free throws underhanded but would accept two handed shots. I could only hit one handed free throws.. which he would not allow. So I never got into a real game.

  4. Glad that CAM is ready to take serious steps to deal with this issue. Thanks to the elder Coach Miller for underscoring the need. I do believe they need to bring in a FT guru for this problem. Had it last year and it is not getting any better this year. The games are only get tougher, especially once into the full B1G season. FTs have already cost one game this year and will cost more if not addressed.

    The ’76 team was able to overcome their issues with their sheer capabilities above all other competition of the era. Can’t say this team has that level of capability above and beyond all other challengers at this point. Believe CAM has the coaching ability to get them there soon, but not so sure the team has all the elements yet to get there. So FTs and TOs are very important to this team at this point. Have the ability to gut their way through a lot of things, but the FTs & TOs may be the difference between getting into the dance, to the sweet 16, or beyond.

    1. Shooting isn’t born overnight, my Scoop brothers. These are not all Archie recruits….and it’s a bit unfair to place all shooting woes(even at the charity stripe) on his shoulders. Barely wet behind the ears in his second season, Miller is attempting to fill needs in a roster, deal with a slew of major/minor injuries disrupting regular rotations, analyzing and dissecting the maturing talent still figuring out leadership roles.

      I remember discussions about poor free-throw shooting countless times during the last tenant occupying the time share at McCracken. I brought up Virgil Sweet dozens of times….Look him up because I’m tired of wasting my breath. He’s probably 90 years young …but if he’s still kicking, he could still teach. But what coach would listen to a dimwit on Scoop pleading to call an old man to help with free throw shooting?
      But why did I bring up Virgil Sweet’s name dozens of times long before Archie Miller was taking Dayton to deeper tournament runs than Indiana?
      Because recruiting net-burners was never a priority with the last coach.
      Athleticism was first and foremost…and then Crean would pluck a couple homegrown Hoosiers (e.g. Hulls, Blackmon, Yogi) to quell the protests arising out of painful watching of Galileo’s trapeze acts bricklaying backboards.
      Discussions of bricklayers is not new. Unlike most of you still keeping denial of the last coach’s bricklayers in the lockbox, I’ll keep perspective on early struggles at the line when I witness our team winning tight games and playing solid basketball in late minutes.
      As Archie begins to corral more and more recruits via his ‘inside-out approach'(Indiana first and then outward), we’ll see the numbers get better.

      Don’t forget…Crean had Hulls for four years. He had Yogi for four years. I haven’t dove deeply into the numbers but …my guess is that those two players on their own accounted for a considerable hike in overall charity stripe percentages.
      I do remember Thomas Bryant being decent from the stripe….as I witnessed his terrible b-ball IQ(partly due to the terrible b-ball IQ of the guy coaching him) and an emotional train wreck on the court. But he could hit his free throws. Yippee.

  5. I wonder HOW they practice free throw shooting? Practice does not make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect.

  6. Maybe Archie was serious when he said “I thought I was a pretty good free throw shooter, but I’m not a good free throw coach.” A look back at the stats for Archie’s Dayton teams proves that statement to be true. Here are Dayton’s free throw shooting stats while Archie was their coach:
    2011/2012: FT% = 77.7%
    2012/2013; FT% = 71.7%
    2013/2014: FT% = 68.1%
    2014/2015: FT% = 68.6%
    2015/2016: FT% = 66.8%
    2016/2017: FT% = 69.0%

    The two best free throw-shooting teams Archie coached at Dayton were his first two, which included players recruited and coached by his predecessor. Since the 2013/2014 season, Archie has not coached a team that made more than 69% of their free throw attempts. Based on that fact, Archie needs to take his Dad’s advice and bring in a free throw shooting guru; and the sooner the better. Making less than 70% of their free throws isn’t going to cut it in the Big Ten.

  7. Last season, IU made only 65.7% of their free throws. So through the first 41 games Archie has coached at IU, his teams are making 65.1% of their free throw attempts. That’s terrible!

  8. You know what would be really tragic…? It would be devastating to our hopes to have the clone of Shaquille O’Neal on our roster.

    Note to brilliant basketball fans: Guess what’s happening when you’re missing tons of foul shots? Come on, I know it’s difficult….Think real hard. No, it’s not simply bad free throw percentages to obsess about more than that fat pimple on your chin going all retro puberty. Come on, I know you can do it. Answer? GUYS ON THE OTHER TEAM ARE GETTING IN FOUL TROUBLE. STARTERS ON THE OTHER TEAM ARE GETTING IN FOUL TROUBLE. It’s not all bad, said Shaq. I’m soon backing down Brett Finkelmeier in the fifth row of bleachers behind the basket.

  9. Dayton Flyers are currently shooting .654 from the charity stripe(#285 ranking). Is that really anything to put in your Christmas letter to the relatives you hate?

    Archie is making his first mistake as a Hoosier coach….He’s listening to some dunce reporter…who has listened some dunce on Scoop making this an issue. Some of these guys came to Archie with their poor shooting habits already engrained before he became our coach. The rest of the struggles are a product of freshmen gaining comfort levels.

    The last thing you want to do is make this more of a mental thing than it already is. Hypercritical pounding of anything into the brain of an 18-year-old already thinking too much at the stripe? This is a generation already trained to care too much about what somebody says about their hairstyle on Facebook. Dear Juwan & DeRon, Think of being with your girlfriend on the beach while at the charity stripe. Think of her name as Charity. They’ll drop right through the nets….
    Lastly, be happy and grateful that you stuck it out at Indiana during the coaching change and you’re now learning the game of basketball. Doesn’t it feel great to learn something? Don’t dwell on the negative and the microscopic examinations of the ups and downs of life standing still at a stripe. You’re not standing still.
    YOU ARE FINALLY EXPERIENCING THE RESPECT FOR THE GAME…AND THE RESPECT FOR YOU BECAUSE YOU ARE BEING TAUGHT THE GAME. So just relax …..All that NBA money will come soon enough.

  10. Have you guys ever noticed there seems to be zero gravity on a Steph Curry triple…..? What is removing nearly all influence of gravity. Could the weight of gravity be tied to sin? I’m starting to question the existence of gravity. Does the earth exert any gravitational pull on the moon? I’m not even sure if it’s a moon. I think it’s the lone top button of Jesus’s robe glowing in the divine light of his sun.

  11. I’d give Sam Alford a call. See if he wants to work 10 days-2 weeks with the team to better FT% and make $6k.

  12. Interesting….Archie has been at an event Virgil Sweet pretty much got off the ground in 1971. He must be familiar with Sweet…..
    And there’s a Bobby Knight connection as well. Knight would regularly stay at Sweet’s home in Valparaiso while recruiting northern Indiana.

    There is only one king of teaching free throw proficiency in this state. That king is Virgil Sweet. 91 years young, still active and loving basketball as much as ever.

    https://www.chicagotribune.com/suburbs/ct-ptb-spt-mike-hutton-column-st-0422-story.html

    https://www.indystar.com/story/sports/basketball/2016/05/13/20-steps-how-guy-hit-409-free-throws-row/84338610/

  13. H4H, surely you are not suggesting that Archie Miller is coaching according to how we on this site are commenting? But then…..I believe that I was the one who first mentioned that we are a better team with the ball in Romeo’s hands, and just look at how we’ve won since Duke (when it seemed like, early in the game, our guys had forgotten that Romeo was on our team!) And not just scoring, pertuant to the fine 2 Assists late in the last game! IF Archie is reading, I say, “Keep that ball with # 0!”

    1. You might want to reread my post…

      What I am suggesting: Dunces who post on here who may have ties/connections to Scoop journalists(or are Scoop journalists simply using a screen name alias) make things into “big” issues to look smart.
      The journalists want to be right(or want their buddy on Scoop to be right) about those “big” issues. Then they take their “big” issues to present in questions to the coach(when he allows access/interview)….who then appeases their “big” issue(knowing full well that he’s playing to his audience and saying the right things to portray concern likely higher than his true concern). This keeps him in favor with the dunces..or, at minimum, portrays a cordial ear and respect.

      Archie then walks away giggling to himself….

      I wish Archie would explain the poor free throw shooting with the same answer Crean gave for everything.

      Journalist(prompted by dunce): How do explain the poor free throw shooting?
      Archie: It moves….It just moves….as in the rim.

        1. Might be the most ridiculous…but my memory of statements made on here is pretty solid. Thou who shall remain nameless(as is the case for all Scoop contributors hiding behind factitious screen names) once talked of his old days writing for IDS. Many have transitioned from IDS to HT…or, most certainly, would know fellow journalists and develop friendships/connections.

          And nothing unveils more than to allow one particular poster to never be reined in or publicly scolded on Scoop. I’ve seen it happen with just about every other poster except the one….who remains untouchable, unchecked, never rebuked and never moderated.

          So, I’m ridiculous. Is it anymore ridiculous than policies that police everyone with the exception of one?

    2. and just look at how we’ve won since Duke

      Brilliant. Everyone has won since Duke….if they have played Duke..unless they’re Gonzaga who won during Duke.

  14. H4H, not everyone has won (post-Duke) by focusing on putting the ball in the hands of their best player “apriori” !

    It is never wrong to listen to The ROCK.

  15. Harv, I just read your impassioned post on being “rediculous”. Let me state for the record that I started reading this site BECAUSE of your posts…. Laconic, no! ¡Interesante, sí! (and I’m glad you are not my physician!!!)

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