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Virginia’s free throws are a hidden key to their early success

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UVA’s FT rate and FT % are the highest they’ve been in years

NCAA Basketball: Coppin State at Virginia Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

While the Virginia Cavaliers’ defense gets a tremendous amount of the attention for the team’s 9-0 start, one unheralded trend contributing to UVA’s success has been free throws. The Hoos have seen a dramatic increase in both the number of free throws they have attempted and converted.

UVA is currently shooting 76.2%, which, if the season ended today, would be the highest in the Tony Bennett era. The program record for a whole season is 76.8%, set in 1979. Hunter, Guy, and Clark are all shooting 80% or better.

Not only are the Hoos hitting their shots, but they are also getting to the line more. Virginia has attempted at least 12 free throws in every game this season so far. The Hoos attempted that many in less than half their games last season (15 of 34). To compare, last season when Virginia played against Wisconsin, the Cavaliers did not attempt a single free throw in the game. Two seasons ago, UVA had six games in which they only attempted seven free throws or less and went 1-5 in those games. The Hoos are currently ranked 152nd in the country in free throw rate — certainly nothing to phone home about, but still, it’s the Hoos’ highest since 2014, when they finished the season at 117th.

Sure — the season, of course, doesn’t end today. Even taking a look not at the full season, but just the non-conference slate, the difference is still stark. Here is UVA’s free throw rate in the past six seasons through nine games (free throws attempts/field goal attempts):

  • 2019: 35.1%
  • 2018: 27.7%
  • 2017: 26.8%
  • 2016: 27.9%
  • 2015: 34.4%
  • 2014: 41.7%

UVA’s defense cannot go unmentioned though. The Hoos prevent teams from attempting free throws as well. Their current rate of 25.9% ranks 25th in the country. This has led to a great free throw disparity advantage for the Cavaliers. UVA has already had six games this season in which they attempted at least seven more free throws than their opponents. That is already more than the Hoos had in the entire 2016-17 season.

Virginia’s opponents are also struggling to convert their free throws when they actually do get to the line. UVA’s opponents are only shooting 62.1% from the charity stripe. When you compare that to Virginia’s 76.2%, the difference is 14.1%. That ranks fourth in the country. We’re commending the student section for their fine work in this regard.

Virginia will start the ACC road schedule on January 9 with a trip to Boston College. In an hostile environment, that’s when the Hoos’ free throw rate and shooting will really start getting tested. For now, this is an encouraging development for UVA’s offense.