After missing the NCAA Tournament in 2012 for the first time in seven years, Jay Wright’s Villanova squad was looking for a bounce back year. However, the team has struggled to a 3-3 start against D1 opponents. Off the court, the Big East has continued to decline and Villanova has largely remained silent about the situation.
Villanova’s offense has ranked 98th in the country in adjusted efficiency. This is relatively impressive considering their shooting, rebounding, and turnover numbers (all in the 200′s). The factor keeping Nova’s offense afloat has been their ability to get to the foul line. In fact, the Wildcats rank second nationally in free throw rate (FTA/FGA).
As a cynical Villanova student and fan, I assumed the extremely high free throw was simply due to competition. Basically, I thought Nova had coincidentally played teams that foul a lot on defense. I decided to look further into this by comparing the AVERAGE free throw rate of each Villanova opponent compared to Villanova’s free throw rate when they played that team. The results are shown graphically below:
The graphs above show that the Wildcat’s ability to get to the line does in fact appear to be legitimate. I knew going into this research that JayVaughn Pinkston and Ryan Arcidiacono were both aggressive drivers who tend to force the issue. Stats back that up, Pinkston draws 7.6 fouls per 40 minutes (23rd in the country) and Arcidiacono draws 5.2 foul per 40 minutes (352nd in the country). More surprisingly, center Mouphtaou Yarou has been very good at getting to the line this year. After a solid junior year, Mouph was expected to have a big senior year. The knock on him by the Villanova fan base has always been his inability to go up strong. Despite this reputation, he gets to the line quite a bit. The final player getting to the line often for Nova has been Maurice Sutton (albeit in limited minutes). Why teams would foul Sutton I’m not sure. Sutton is known for his defense, but doesn’t have much of an offensive game in the post.
Obviously a team like Villanova that gets to the line so frequently is heavily affected by their ability to actually make the free throws. This season, Villanova has shot 71% from the line (the NCAA average is 69%). That coming off a great season from the line last year where the Wildcats shot a very high 75.4%. Currently, Nova is making 22 free throws per game. I wanted to look at the affect of FT% on points and ultimately on wins. I looked at FT%’s between 65% and 77% and how that would affect Nova’s expected wins in these first six games and for the rest of the season (using pythag expectation
The Wildcats are currently projected to 14-16 on the season given their 71% foul shooting. However, at 74% they would be projected to crack the .500 barrier and at 67% they would be projected to go 12-18. Coaches love to stress the importance of free throws. Jay Wright would have a legitimate point, because of how frequently his squad finds themselves at the charity stripe.