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Jayhawks hurt by something they can't control
Missouri’s Keith Ramsey hit three of four free throws against Kansas.That might not sound like an earth-shattering revelation, but it’s probably the reason the Tigers defeated the Jayhawks on Monday.Coming into the game, Ramsey was 8-for-29 from the free-throw line, which comes out to an embarrassing 27.6 percent. He was even worse in Big 12 play, making three of 14 (21.4 percent).KU coach Bill Self should have high-fived Tyshawn Taylor for fouling Ramsey with the Jayhawks up 44-33 with 12:15 to go. The stats would tell you that Ramsey would miss not just one, but two.http://worldonline.media.clients.ellingtoncms.com/img/blogs/entry_img/2009/Feb/11/Ramsey.jpgInstead, against the odds, Ramsey swished both, and suddenly KU’s lead was back under double digits.MU went on to win by two. Ramsey’s two points might have made all the difference.Unfortunately for the Jayhawks, seeing teams hit free throws they aren’t supposed to hasn't been a rare occurrence this season.KU’s opponents are hitting 71.6 percent of their free throws, which is three full percentage points above the national average (68.6 percent). The Jayhawks rank 301st out of 344 teams in free-throw defense.And that should be the frustrating part for KU fans: There is no such thing as free-throw defense. It’s one stat KU’s players have no control over.Perhaps it would be better to say that the Jayhawks have run into a long string of bad luck. KU’s free-throw defense is worst in the Big 12. Nebraska is second-worst in the league, as its opponents have made 70.6 percent of their free-throw tries.Maybe you’re thinking that KU’s poor free-throw defense numbers are a result of the Big 12 shooting free throws better than other conferences.Texas would prove that theory wrong. The Longhorns’ opponents have only shot 60.8 percent from the line this year — nearly 8 percent lower than the national average and almost 11 percent lower than KU’s opponents have shot.The problem for the Jayhawks is that, over the course of the season, their opponents have shot even better from the free-throw line.In fact, after doing some research, I found that 10 of KU’s last 12 opponents have shot higher than their season average from the line against KU. The only two teams that haven’t were Nebraska (50.0 percent against KU, 68.0 percent season) and Colorado (at Allen Fieldhouse), which was only percentage points under its season average (72.7 percent against KU, 72.9 percent season).In the last 12 games, KU’s opponents have made 200 of 268 free throws (74.6 percent).http://worldonline.media.clients.ellingtoncms.com/img/blogs/entry_img/2009/Feb/11/mario__.jpgCan we all agree that Mario Chalmers was a good free-throw shooter for KU? Well, last year, he went 97-for-130 from the free-throw line. That comes out to 74.6 percent.For illustration purposes, whenever KU has sent anyone to the line in the last 12 games, it has been the equivalent of giving 2007-08 Mario Chalmers two free throws.If I was the opponent, I’d feel pretty good about my chances of getting two points.So how much of a difference has KU’s unluckiness made? The Jayhawks’ opponents have made 365 of 510 free throws this year. If KU’s foes would have made the standard 68.6 percent, they would have made 350 free throws. If the Jayhawks were simply not unlucky or lucky, they would have saved 15 points.If the Jayhawks, however, were as lucky as the Longhorns (whose opponents only make 60.8 percent of their free throws), KU would have only given up 310 points from the free-throw line.The Jayhawks would have given up 55 fewer points by doing absolutely nothing differently.In four of KU’s five losses, the opponent has shot a better free-throw percentage than its season average.Even with the bad luck, free-throw defense probably has only potentially cost KU two games. And even those are debatable.If Syracuse would have shot its season average from the line (64.1 percent instead of 66.7 percent), the Orange would have made one less free throw. Because the game went to overtime, the one point could have made the difference in a win and loss for KU.Though Missouri shot close to its season average (65.7 percent season, 66.7 percent against KU), Ramsey’s 3-for-4 performance were all points that MU needed for its comeback.UMass, if you were wondering, shot below its season average against KU (69.6 percent season, 62.5 percent against KU).The strange thing, to me, is that with the students behind each basket, Allen Fieldhouse is typically one of the toughest places for opponents to shoot free throws.http://worldonline.media.clients.ellingtoncms.com/img/blogs/entry_img/2009/Feb/11/distract.jpgFrom my vantage point, the students have been just as organized with their distractions as they have been in years past.Still, opponents have made 184 of 259 free throws (71.0 percent) at KU’s home gym.Perhaps these stats make KU’s 19-5 record and 11-1 mark in its last 12 games even more impressive.Not only are the Jayhawks winning, they’re also playing well enough to overcome their own unluckiness.