Sunday, January 25, 2015

Free Throws Do Matter (Again)

It was a shame to watch the Orange fight back gallantly against the Hurricanes yesterday, and see them fall up short.   The Orange played hard, and they never gave up despite two prolonged scoreless stretches in each half that let Miami pull out ahead.

The shame was the poor free throw shooting by the Syracuse players. This issue has been a thorn in the Orange side for years; it seems the Orange are having a collective freeze on their free throw shooting right now.  The Orange hit only 8 of 19 free throws against the Hurricanes, missing the front end of some crucial one-and-ones, and missing some critical free throws in the last couple of minutes that would have allowed them to win the game.  The Orange made some clutch jump shots, some clutch rebounding (thanks Tyler Roberson!), and some nice defensive stops.  But they have to make some of their free throws.

Michael Gbinije is the worst culprit. Yesterday's loss dropped his season average to 48.9% (23 for 47).  Gbinije was not terrific before this year, but 64.6% last season was bearable.  He is now 11-23 in conference play.  For a player that Jim Boeheim wants to be running the offense in clutch moments, that is just not tolerable.  You can see that Gbinije is a total mess right now, with different forms on his free throw attempts each time to the line.

Trevor Cooney is a terrific free throw shooter.  Yet, he is in a funk in conference play making only 21 of 34 free throws for 61.8%.  Several of his misses over the past few games have been in crunch time.

Rakeem Christmas had been a rock and clutch player at the charity stripe. Yesterday, he bombed making only 5 of 11 attempts. 

Ron Patterson has not shot much in his career. He does not give much glimmer of hope as he has made only 2 of 8 attempts for the season.  At least Patterson does have the humorous quote of the season mentioning earlier in the year that his free throws were 'close'.

By comparison, Tyler Roberson is shooting well from the line. In conference play, he has made 71.4% of his shots, hitting 10 of 14 attempts.

A dilemma for Boeheim could be what to do with Kaleb Joseph.  His play has improved during the game, and his turnovers have cut down, but he was very rocky earlier this year when under pressure.  Joseph, however, has made 16 of 19 free throw attempts in conference play, for 84.2%.   He  has not shown the ability to shoot from the perimeter, and defenses are leaving him wide open.  He still makes big mistakes on defensive positioning.  But he has been making his free throws.  

I have got to imagine that Boeheim rides Cooney and Christmas down the stretch of games, hoping they can revert to form, and he keeps the ball out of Gbinije's hands during obvious fouling situations.  I'm not sure he wants to give up all the positives that Gbinije brings during crunch time to give some time to Joseph, but it will be something he is surely evaluating.

Also noteworthy in the game was that Syracuse played only six players during the contest.  Four of those players (Christmas, Roberson, Cooney and Gbinije) played the entire game.

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