John Calipari teams are infamous for struggling at the line. Filled with top recruits, they are often able to make up for bad shooting from the charity stripe with dominance in other facets of the game throughout the regular. But poor free throw shooting has killed his team in several painful NCAA tournament losses.
On paper, the team that most resembles a Calipari squad is Saint Louis. By A-10 standards, Saint Louis has a ton of top talent: Jordan Goodwin, Hasahn French, and Carte’Are Gordon were all top 100 recruits. They are athletic and very difficult to score on. Unfortunately, they also have followed the Calipari route with terrible free throw shooting.
Saint Louis entered Sunday ranked a horrific 334th in free throw shooting. They promptly went a pathetic 15 for 32 against Oregon State, which could push them into the bottom 10 in the nation. Earlier in the week they lost a close game to Southern Illinois after shooting a measly 44.4% from the line. In their two point loss to Pittsburgh they shot 62.5%. Nor is this start an aberration for SLU: last year, they ranked 335th in the nation from the charity stripe.
Despite their surprising starts, both VCU and Dayton are also bad at the free throw line. Neither ranks in the top 250 in the country for free throw percentage. Both teams gave Virginia, a top five team, all they could handle. But combined they shot less than 60% from the line while Virginia made 83% of their shots at the charity stripe. All things equal, if Dayton and VCU had swapped free throw percentages with UVA in their respective games, both A-10 teams would have emerged victorious.
It’s not just the athletic teams at the top getting killed on free throws. George Washington has the second worst record in the league but it would probably be 4-6 instead of 2-8 if it didn’t rank 324th nationally from the line. It lost its opener to Stony Brook by three after going 16 of 34 line; it lost its last game to Valparaiso by the same margin on 10 of 19 shooting from the charity stripe.
Free three shooting rarely makes headlines. But the A-10’s struggles at the line partially explain the conference’s mediocre start to the season.