Bill Self likes to say that he has never coached free throws. The more you talk about free throws, the more you emphasize their importance, the more you miss. At least, that’s what Self believes.
“Usually the more you talk about it, the worse you shoot them,” Self said on Wednesday, after Kansas made 25 of 32 from the line in its 75-70 victory over Georgetown.
If you listened to Kansas’ players on Wednesday, though, you heard a slightly different story.
“We shoot at least 100, 200 shots a day from the free throw line,” KU sophomore Brannen Greene said after finishing a perfect four of four from the line.
Perhaps this is the normal routine for a Kansas team. During scrimmages in practice, the players not on the court will usually shoot free throws at a side basket. In terms of priority, there hasn’t been much change. But perhaps the Jayhawks — and Self — were slightly alarmed after they shot just 15 of 27 from the line in a 72-40 loss to Kentucky at the Champions Classic.
If you include Kansas’ free-throw performance against UC-Santa Barbara in the season opener (23 of 33), the Jayhawks shot just 63 percent from the line in their first two games. Since then: KU has shot 76 percent during its six-game winning streak.
Even freshman forward Cliff Alexander is suddenly a free-throw jedi. And this, more than anything, could be pivotal for Kansas. Alexander is proving to be one of the best in the country at getting to the foul line, and he is now 11 of his last 12 at the line after going three of four against Georgetown. For the season, Alexander is shooting 70 percent from the line.
But while Kansas’ ability to get to the line and convert has been impressive, the Jayhawks have been nearly as good at keeping opponents off the free-throw line. There’s an old goal among basketball coaches, one that you hear a lot, about trying too make more free throws than your opponents attempt.
So far, the Jayhawks have made 171 free throws in seven games; their opponents have attempted just 153. As a result, the Jayhawks rank sixth nationally in free throw rate, according to KenPom.com.
“Everybody’s making big-time improvements from the free-throw line,” Greene said.
A couple more questions as Kansas prepares to face No. 13 Utah on Saturday.
▪ Where was Svi Mykhailiuk on Wednesday? Svi played just five total minutes against Georgetown. He missed his only field-goal attempt and had one turnover. When asked about it afterwards, Self said it just felt like it wasn’t Svi’s night. Brannen Greene, of course, was playing well and making shots. So the decision wasn’t too hard.
Later, Self said that Svi continues to be Kansas’ best player in practice on most days, but Self is still sorting through rotation combinations and roles. On most nights, Self doesn’t know who his best players are going to be. Which can be a tough way to coach.
It’s not a terrible position to be in — the Jayhawks have the depth to make it work — but most coaches crave consistency.
For now, that’s something Self can’t count on.
▪ Can Alexander continue to avoid foul trouble? Good question. When the season began, Self joked that Alexander might set records for his ability to foul out. To this point, though, Alexander has been solid at blocking shots WITHOUT fouling. His block percentage (7.4) ranks 103rd in the country, and he’s yet to pick up even four fouls in a game. This might change as he plays more minutes. But it’s an encouraging sign for Alexander’s future.
The player of the game
Sophomore wing Brannen Greene.
When you finish a game five of five from three-point range in just 18 minutes, your offensive numbers are going to be off the charts. Greene averaged 1.86 points per possession against Georgetown, and his timely outside shooting might have been the difference in a gritty-grindy-gutsy road victory.
Greene’s offense helped offset off nights from Perry Ellis (.90 points per possession), Wayne Selden (.82) and Devonte’ Graham (.79).
The moment of the game
OK. This was not quite a decisive or pivotal moment, but here’s Frank Mason, showing off his decent handle on a drive to the hoop.
Kansas shot just 28 percent from inside the three-point arc on Wednesday. At one point in the second half, KU went nearly 12 minutes without a two-point field goal. But the Jayhawks’ outside shooting — not their forte on most nights — helped them pull through on the road.