It isn’t any secret that Villanova lived and died at the charity stipe last season. Not only did they lead the NCAA in free throw attempts per game, but over a quarter of its total offense was generated at the line. Four Wildcats attempted 665 free throws combined (Pinkston, Hilliard, Arch, Yarou), which is greater than the total number of team free throws for 60% of division I teams. Pinkston alone attempted 241 free throws, good for 15th in the nation (some of the players ahead of him enjoyed the benefit of playing in more games). And it wasn’t just last season that Villanova dominated at drawing fouls and getting to the line. Jay Wright’s teams have always had a knack for drawing contact. The following graphic shows a histogram displaying the frequency of free throw attempts per game over the past ten seasons for every Division I program (each school is represented 10 times). The horizontal scale shows increments of .5 attempts per game or about 15-20 extra attempts over the course of a season. The horizontal scale breaks the data up into bins.
The red line shows the 2012-2013 Wildcats. They made it into one of the highest bins of the past decade. Only 61 of 3,397 teams attempted a higher rate of free throws over the ten-year span. They averaged 26.1 free throw attempts per game putting them in the 98th percentile of all teams. Meaning last year’s wildcats were historically good at drawing contact. The yellow line represents the mean from Villanova’s ten-year span. Jay Wright’s ten teams averaged 23.2 free throw attempts per game putting them around the 89th percentile every season, indicating that Villanova is consistently in the upper echelon of teams in terms of drawing contact.
Another measure of a team’s ability (probably a more accurate measure) to get to the foul line is free throw attempts per 100 possessions. Each possession in basketball offers the chance for a team to score points or not to score points. The more often they score points, obviously, the better chance they will have at winning the game. Free throws are generally a higher percentage play, for quality free throw shooting teams, than two or three point field goal attempts. The average free throw percentage in college basketball is about 69% while the average field goal percentage is about 47%. Making two free throws in a row occurs about 47.6% of the time. This suggests that a field goal is about just as likely as a "two for two from the line." However, the Wildcats shot about 72% from the free throw line last season; providing them with more of an incentive to get to the foul line because making two free throws in a row occurred about 52% of the time for them (much more advantageous than the league average 47% from the field). If a team shoots well from the line, like Villanova, it is in their best interest to go to the foul line as many times as possible. This is one reason why free throw attempts per 100 possessions is a valuable indicator of a team's proficiency in drawing contact. It doesn’t just tell us how many times a team is able to get to the line, it tells us the proportion of their possessions that end at the free throw line. This proportion gives us an avenue to begin investigating their offensive tendencies while providing insight into their offensive strategies (or in the case of the team committing the foul, their defensive strategies). The following graphic shows a comparison between free throw attempts per 100 possessions for 347 Division I teams last season. Not surprisingly Villanova ranked first in this area with 38.1 free throw attempts occurring per 100 possessions. Said plainly, Villanova’s offense relied on free throw attempts more than any other team in the nation. The red line represents last season’s Wildcats.
One last thing. Does Villanova possess some sort of "skill" at getting to the line on a year-to-year basis? Or does their conference inflate their free throw totals? The Big East is generally known as a physical conference that values defense, rebounding, and athleticism above everything else. Looking at the numbers though suggests that the Big East’s physicality does not inflate their free throw totals when compared to the rest of the nation. For the 2012-2013 season the big east maintained an average free throw attempts per 100 possessions of 30.3, while the rest of the nation averaged 29.33. This comes out to about a free throw per 100 possessions (well less than one attempt per game), which can be shown to be statistically insignificant. Shown below is a chart comparing the big east to the rest of division I in terms of free throw attempts per 100 possessions. Due to the relative rate of fouling within the big east conference, we can conclude that Villanova does possess the skill to draw contact and get to the line. In 2013-2014 it figures the wildcats will get to the line even more, as an emphasis is going to be placed on hand checking by the officials.
|Free Throw Attempts Per 100 Possessions|
|Big East Average||30.33536507|
|Rest of Divison I Average||29.33|