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2017-18 KU free throw issues an eye-popping part of recent trend

Kansas guard Devonte' Graham sets himself for a free throw during the second half against Stanford, Thursday, Dec. 21, 2017 at Golden 1 Center in Sacramento, California.

Kansas guard Devonte' Graham sets himself for a free throw during the second half against Stanford, Thursday, Dec. 21, 2017 at Golden 1 Center in Sacramento, California. by Nick Krug

As the Kansas men's basketball team prepares to dive into the meat of its 2017-18 schedule, with Big 12 Conference play tipping off Friday night in Austin, Texas, the 11th-ranked Jayhawks (10-2) enter yet another Big 12 title defense with more than a couple of questions.

But few of them — whether about depth, experience, defense or eligibility — loom as large and ring as loud as the question about this team's free throw shooting. Specifically, why don't the Jayhawks shoot more of them?

Twelve games into the 2017-18 season, the Jayhawks have shot just 142 free throws, an average of 11.8 trips to the free throw line per game.

That puts them 42 shy of the number of free throws shot by their opponents during the first 12 games of the season a whopping 160 attempts off the pace of the average number of trips to the line during the past four seasons, when KU's low through 12 games was 262 a year ago, with the high coming in 2013-14, when Andrew Wiggins led the Jayhawks to the line 364 times during the first dozen games of the season.

While those numbers are more than a bit eye-popping — “alarming” was the word KU coach Bill Self recently used to describe it — they should not come as a major surprise.

Sure, the number of trips to the line so far seems low, but the current season marks the fourth consecutive non-conference season in which KU's free throw attempts dropped from the year before it.

In 2013-14, KU went to the line 30.3 times per game in the first 12 games of the season. A year later that number dipped to 25.4 and then again to 23.2 in 2015-16 and 21.8 in 2016-17.

So it's not the fact that the number has declined this season that has Self scratching his head as much as it is the fact that it has declined by so much.

KU's 11.8 free throw attempts per game are 10 fewer than last season's number and almost half as many as in 2015-16.

There was a recent four-game stretch, just prior to KU's win over Stanford last Thursday night, in which the Jayhawks had attempted just 34 free throws in that time. Want some perspective on that number? The Jayhawks attempted 34 or more free throws in a single game eight different times during the previous four seasons.

“We go to Nebraska and, granted, they didn’t shoot free throws either, but we shoot eight free throws against Nebraska and we shoot nine (against Omaha),” Self said. “When is the last time a Kansas team in two consecutive games shot a total of 17 free throws?”

Kansas guard Marcus Garrett puts up a free throw during the second half against Stanford, Thursday, Dec. 21, 2017 at Golden 1 Center in Sacramento, California.

Kansas guard Marcus Garrett puts up a free throw during the second half against Stanford, Thursday, Dec. 21, 2017 at Golden 1 Center in Sacramento, California. by Nick Krug

The answer to that question and to KU's inability to get to the free throw line is not easy to find.

In Self's mind, the easiest way to change the trend and start getting to the line more is by simply driving the ball into the paint with a purpose. But that is easier said than done.

“Who drives it for us to get in there,” Self said. “Devonte' (Graham) does a little bit, but he's not like Frank (Mason) and nobody's like Josh (Jackson). You know, we shoot it pretty well, which can kind of cover some things, but in a tight game where you're not shooting the basketball (well), you have to figure out a way to get to the line.”

For what it's worth, the Jayhawks enter Friday's game at Texas shooting .725 from the line so far this season. But that percentage, while among the better marks in recent Kansas history, did not have Self overly thrilled.

“You better shoot a good percentage because you're not getting to the line ever,” he said.

In their most recent outing, a 75-54 victory over Stanford in Sacramento, the Jayhawks got to the line just 10 times — making six — but did not need the freebies because of the way their defense controlled things.

But that does not mean Self's squad has not spent time talking about and working on ways to increase its free throw attempts.

“I think you can coach it some, but the reality of it is that’s not who we are,” Self said. “Malik (Newman) doesn’t do that. Malik’s shot 11 free throws this year. Eleven! Total. Going into (the Omaha) game, 'Dok (Azubuike) had shot one free throw in his last five games. One! If it’s not for Devonte’, we don’t shoot any free throws, and we should be a decent free throw shooting team.”

KU SeasonFree Throws Attempted
through 1st 12 games
Free Throw Attempts Per Game
through 1st 12 games
2017-1814211.8
2016-1726221.8
2015-1627823.2
2014-1530525.4
2013-1436430.3
KU player
through first 12 games
FT made FT attemptedFT percentage
Devonte' Graham3338.868
Udoka Azubuike1025.400
Lagerald Vick1724.708
Svi Mykhailiuk1014.714
Mitch Lightfoot1214.857
Marcus Garrett712.583
Malik Newman11111.000
Chris Teahan 221.000
Clay Young12.500
Sam Cunliffe00N/A
James Sosinski00N/A

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