Dear Syracuse Basketball Critics: Stop Bickering over Free Throws

Jameson FlemingSenior Writer IJanuary 9, 2009

Folks you get it, I get, we all get it. Syracuse is not the greatest free throw shooting team. This isn't something new either. The Orange has been shooting between 64 and 70 percent pretty much every year since this team won the National Title in 2003.

The past two years, free throw shooting was obviously a major problem because the 'Cuse wasn't nearly as talented and experienced during the past seasons as the team is this year.

The 2009 version of the Orange is much more talented.  It's a more complete team. There's three point shooters, imposing forces near the basket, a talented floor general, and depth of the bench.

It's really not a shocker or going out on a limb in the least bit to say free throws will cost Syracuse a game. At this point, you're just "being that guy" who states the obvious. Frankly, this team's free throw troubles are over blown.

It's like a Marquette fan saying the Golden Eagles' height will cost them a game (MU ranks near 300th in the country and last in the Big East in effective height, Pitt is 15th in the conference and ranks about 200th in the country).

Or for a Georgetown fan saying the team's lack of experience (ranks 312th in the country) will cost the Hoyas a game.

Or for a Notre Dame fan saying the team's complete and utter inability to play defense (141st in defense) will cost the Irish a game.

Or Louisville's inability to operate in the half-court offense (ranks 90th in offensive efficiency) will cost the Cardinals a game.

If free throw shooting is thought to be your biggest problem (which for SU isn't the case), you would take that free shooting as your problem over the hindrances the previous teams are forced to overcome.

You can make the argument that Syracuse has already lost that game because of free throws when it shot 9-18 against Cleveland State in a buzzer-beating loss. But free throw shooting in that game was just a small problem. Cleveland State had arguably its best offensive game in terms of efficiency against its toughest opponent. The Orange also turned the ball over seven more times than the Vikings.

Before Arinze Onuaku's disaster against South Florida, the Orange's free throw percentage was hoovering around 68 percent which was in the top half of the Big East.

Jonny Flynn and Paul Harris, the two players most likely to get to the line are both shooting over 70 percent for the season. Slasher Eric Devendorf has been getting to the line more often this year as last, and is cashing in at a rate of 81.3 percent.

Onuaku is the only player getting to the line consistent enough that is shooting poorly from the line. The junior tank has hit just 25 of 60 free throws. But SU could see a boost from a big man from starting power forward Rick Jackson. The sophomore has improved drastically at the line with his free throwing shooting up 20 percent from last year. Jackson is connecting at over 70 percent from the line.

The 'Cuse is scoring at a rate of 1.11 points per possession which ranks around 40th in the country. For SU to statistically not hurt itself from the free throw line, the Orange has shoot 55 percent from the line in two shot situations and "and-one" opportunities. The key for the 'Cuse is to hit the front end of one-and-one chances to avoid empty possessions.

Considering the Orange is shooting over 64 percent, inefficiency at the line hasn't been a big deal, especially when you consider the rate at which opponents are shooting free throws against the 'Cuse. Opponents are shooting just 62 percent against the Orange which ranks 10in the country, but Syracuse's opponents are also shooting the second fewest free throws in the country.

To put it simply, the free throw line has been one of the Orange's greatest assets.

The bickering about the free throws needs to stop now. This team actually has a few major problems. The biggest being the teams turnover differential. Syracuse ranks near the bottom of the Big East and the country in turning the ball over and forcing turnovers. SU ranks 212th in the country in turnovers as 21.6 percent of the 'Cuse's possessions end in a turnover. SU is forcing miscues at a rate that ranks 304th in the country.

Opponents turn the ball over fewer than one out of every five possessions (18.6 percent).

If there's one thing that will cost Syracuse numerous games during the season, it will be the fact that opposing teams will have a handful of extra possessions to score on throughout the game.

So, Jim Boeheim, fix the turnovers before you fix the free throws.