Marquette’s Free Throw “Defense”
Through February 6, Marquette’s opponents have shot 74.9% from the free throw line. There are only 7 teams in D-I college basketball whose opponents have shot better this season.
On average, D-I basketball teams are 69.6% from the charity stripe this year.
Free throw percentage matters very little in the grand scheme of basketball stats over the course of a season. In terms of importance, the great free throw shooting of Marquette’s opponents shouldn’t even show up on a top 50 list of concern for fans.
Nonetheless, our question was, “Why?” When it comes to free throw rate – far more important than free throw percentage, yet still way down the list of important factors – Marquette has been very good. Only ten teams have a defensive free throw rate better than Marquette’s 26.1%.
One line of thinking is the following: Assume a team doesn’t foul a lot. When they do foul, it may be more often because the offensive player is one who is adept at drawing fouls. Players who excel at drawing fouls may be better free throw shooters than average.
Seems like a possibility, but a team like Iowa State shakes up the theory pretty quickly. The Cyclones, also known as Marquette West, have a nation-leading defensive free throw rate of 21.4%, yet their defensive free throw percentage is also excellent at just 66.8%.
So, here’s what we did: First, we averaged the team free throw percentage of all Marquette opponents this season. This resulted in an average of 69.0%. We can reasonably say that, on average, Marquette’s opponents aren’t unusually good free throw shooting teams.
Next, we looked at actual free throw attempts, by player, against MU this year. We calculated an expectation of free throws made by multiplying their attempts by their season free throw %.
The average free throw percentage of players attempting free throws against Marquette is 71.5%. Again, the average D-I player shoots 69.6%. So, part of the issue is that MU has put better-than-average shooters on the line more often than most teams.
However, there’s another nearly 3.5% difference between the expected free throw percentage and actual. We’ll chalk this up mostly to chance. Any other thoughts out there?
Free Throws Made vs. Expectation
Best: Desi Rodriguez 9/10, 6.58 expected, +2.42 over expectation
Worst: Tyler Wideman 0/3, 1.72 expected, -1.72 under expectation