[Editor's note: Awesome deep-dive. If you're not following @basketballfan66 you should be!]
Michigan State came into the season ranked #18 in somewhat of a rebuilding year, but they’ve struggled in a variety of ways so far this season, including half-court offense (Maryland), defense (@Nebraska), inability to finish at the rim (Kansas), and finding a go-to player down the stretch. However, the most recurring and glaring issue has been its free-throw shooting. As it stands MSU is currently shooting 63.1% from the line. Since the ’01-’02 season, the national FT% has only varied between 68.7% and 69.9% per KenPom. As of February 1, the national average is 68.9%. MSU is ranked 327 of 351 teams and is 3rd worst of any Power 5 conference school. Since the 2001-2002 basketball there have been a total of 160 different B1G teams. While MSU boasts 4 of the top 7 free throw shooting teams from this period, the 2014-2015 team is currently No. 155 of 160.
|Best B1G Free-Throw Shooting Teams|
|Worst B1G Free-Throw Shooting Teams|
Changes from Last Year
To see how players have progressed since last year, the chart below contains the summaries of the non-freshmen's free-throw shooting of the last two years.
|Season-to-Season Free Throw Percentage Comparison|
|Player||FTM||FTA||FT%||FTM||FTA||FT%||Change in %|
(Reminder: MSU only returned 6 scholarship players from last year's roster)
Valentine spent a lot of time in the gym last summer working on both his FT's and his jump shot and it has clearly paid off. Costello made a modest jump, while both Ellis, Forbes, and Schilling's shooting is very close to where it was last year. Dawson and Trice, on the other hand have significant percentage drop-offs that have no obvious explanation. While Dawson did have his wrist injury he only shot 43.5% (10-23) leading up to that point. He made only 1 of his next 9 attempts immediately after returning from the injury but had a decent stretch going 9-13 in games against PSU and Rutgers. With the injury issues out of the way, we have to hope that he listens to Professor Garland and he ends up shooting >60% for the rest of the season . With Trice, larger minutes may be a factor as he is playing about 11 more minutes per game and it may be having a negative impact on his shooting.
First Half vs. Second Half
Because free throw shooting does not happen in a vacuum there are factors to look so we can see why players make or miss them. One thing I was curious about was whether a team shoots better in the first or second half. These are small sample sizes but from what I found the main 3 guards (Valentine, Trice, Forbes) are mostly unaffected while the main 3 bigs (Dawson, Schilling, Costello) shoot better in the first half than in the second. The other players either have very minor differences or do not have a large enough sample size to really compare.
|Comparing First Half & Second Half Free-Throw Percentages|
|Total||First Half||Second Half||Overtime|
|Player||FTM||FTA||FT%||FTM||FTA||FT%||FTM||FTA||FT%||FTM||FTA||FT%||% Change Between Halves|
|Marvin Clark Jr.||19||26||73.1%||8||12||66.7%||11||14||78.6||0||0||N/A||+11.9%|
|Lourawls Nairn Jr.||11||22||50.0%||3||6||50.0%||8||16||50.0%||0||0||N/A||0.0%|
With fatigue from the season as potential factor, I decided to look at FT shooting percentages from the most recent MSU teams. What I found was actually encouraging looking ahead to the rest of the season. Every year the Spartans' FT% increased after their 21st game.
|First 21 games vs. The Rest of the Season|
|First 21 games||Remaining Games|
|Year||FTM||FTA||FT%||FTM||FTA||FT%||Change in FT%|
It seems as though there is a more concerted effort towards making FT's down the stretch because the stakes usually become higher. Looking at some of the trendlines, there typically appeared to be a decline in FT% in the middle of the season.
While there are many factors that affect free-throw shooting, the numbers I found left me a little more optimistic moving forward to the end of the season
(Bonus: I looked for a correlation between FT% and number of possessions per game to see if in-game fatigue might be a factor but there was no significant correlation. If anything it was the opposite of what I hypothesized in that FT% was typically higher in larger possession games. My educated guess is that more possessions → more guards in transition → more guards taking FT's rather than bigs.)