To hear some old-timers talk, there was a time when teenagers obeyed their parents, political candidates didn’t sling mud at each other - and college basketball players made all of their free throws.
I’ll confess: When the Hogs are in the midst of seemingly yet another game in which they’re barely making half of their free throws, I’m as guilty as anyone of being an old fogey and thinking that the Arkansas teams of yesteryear didn’t shoot themselves in the foot that way. The shaky performance from the foul line in the season-opener got me to wondering: Were the Razorback teams of the past as good from the charity stripe as I remember?
I decided to find out. (Actually, I gave a copy of the latest media guide to one of our interns and headed off to the outdoor patio of the nearby Bahama Breeze.)
For the purposes of this post, I’m defining an “outstanding” free-throw shooting team as one that converted 70 percent or more of its shots (and I didn’t round up, i.e., 69.7% didn’t make the cut. I’m a hard ass that way.). I’ve also limited the study to the modern era of Razorback basketball, meaning the first year of the Eddie Sutton regime onwards.
So, how many teams of the past 35 years were outstanding from the free-throw line? Nine.
Five of the teams - the 1975, ‘76, ‘78, ‘79 and ‘80 squads — were coached by Sutton. Nolan Richardson’s ‘90, ‘91 and ‘92 teams also made the grade, as did Stan Heath’s 2007 (and final) squad. Probably unsurprisingly, the team with the highest free-throw shooting percentage was the 1978 Final Four squad; the nine teams’ exact percentages are listed below:
Team Free-Throw Percentage
Four other teams made at least 69% of their free throws. The 1981 and 1987 squads each hit 69.1% of their attempts; the 2006 team hit 69.2%; and the 2001 edition of the Hogs hit 69% on the dot. On the flip side, the 2000 squad (which pulled a Cinderella and won the SEC Tournament championship) and the 2003 team (Stan Heath’s first year) were truly awful from the line, hitting 60.3% and 60.9% of their attempts, respectively.
After that, for the most part, the teams of the past 35 years hover in the 64% to 68% range - not outstanding, but not terrible, either. The ‘94 national championship team hit exactly 68% of its free throws, and, one year later, the national runner-up hit 67.5% of their shots from the charity stripe.
As a quick aside, it’s interesting that two of the great teams from this period were surprisingly ho hum from the line. The 1977 team - which went undefeated in the SWC, lost only two games all year and, in the opinion of none other than Eddie Sutton, was better than the ‘78 Final Four squad - made only 65% percent from the line. And the 1983 squad - which featured the triumverate of Darrell Walker, Alvin Robertson and Joe Kleine; lost only four games; and spent most of the season in the Top 10 - converted only 63.2% of its free throws, the fourth-worst percentage of the past 35 years.
So, what’s the lesson in all of this? When it comes to free throws, at least, many of those golden years weren’t so golden.