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Key Stat For UW Men's Basketball Is Shooting, But Not Just From The Field

ESPN's College Basketball Nation Blog did a profile of the University of Washington men's basketball team this week as part of their Summer Buzz series.

In it, Eamonn Brennan wrote the following:

Summer Buzz: Washington Huskies - College Basketball Nation Blog - ESPN
That offensive inconsistency came down to one key stat: shooting. As a talented, veteran UW team looks to take the next step in 2010-11, it'll have the same challenge to overcome. Can Washington shoot well enough to win?

That will require some new contributions. In 2009-10, the Huskies posted a 49.7 effective field goal percentage, ranking them No. 128 in the country. It was their one sub-standard offensive stat. Washington rebounded well (36.6 offensive rebounding percentage), prevented turnovers (17.5 turnover percentage, good for a No. 34 overall rank) and got to the free throw line (40.9 percent free throw rate) at a reasonable clip. But they didn't always shoot well, and that could be troublesome given the personnel losses the Huskies will have to deal with.

He's certainly right that shooting was a problem for the Huskies (although it appears that they were 135th not 128th in the nation). However, as strange as it might sound, their opponents' free throw rate -- the number of free throws per field goal attempt -- was a more persistent problem and as significant a reason for losses as shooting from the field.

Yes, they weren't ranked well in effective field goal percentage -- which is a shooting percentage adjusted for the added value of taking a three pointer -- but they were ranked even lower in free throw rate.

Although the Huskies' free throw rate of 40.9% was 88th in the nation and 4th in the Pac-10, their opponents' free throw rate of 44.6% was 292nd in the nation and last in the Pac-10. Put simply, that means that they were not only putting their opponent on the line more than were getting to the line, but also that their opponents were getting to the line at one of the highest rates in the nation.

Looking through their 10 losses, they were outshot (eFg%) in 7 of those. However, they also lost the battle at the line in 7 games (their three point loss to USC on February 18th was the only loss in which they both had a higher free throw rate and outshot their opponents). Their average free throw attempt differential in those losses was 4.2, but considering that Georgetown got to the line 19 more times in an 8 point loss and UCLA got to the line 14 more times in a disappointing 1 point loss -- in which free throw shooting played a big role -- their tendency to put their opponents on the line so much is just as much a problem that needs to be addressed.

That said, free throw rate is considered the least significant of the the Four Factors in basketball. However in the Huskies' case, free throw rate was the only one of the Four Factors on the season level in which their opponents outdid them. During conference play, the differential was larger at about 10%. Considering that they were 292nd in the nation in opponents free throw rate and the graduation of Quincy Pondexter -- who had the second highest free throw rate on the team (40.30%) and accounted for the biggest chunk of the team's free throw attempts (226 out of 903) -- that differential could grow.

How do you "work on" opponents' free throw rate? Stop fouling. The Huskies fouled the most in the conference by nearly 3 fouls a game and had the 21st most fouls per game in the nation. A large part of that is that the Huskies had the most possessions in the conference, but given that free throw rate is tempo free stat the free throw rate still stands as a potential area of improvement for this year.