Do Free Throws Really Win Games?

 Free throws are supposed to be the easiest shot in basketball. It’s the highest percentage shot, most teams averaging above 70 percent. It’s an uncontested shot, giving the fouled player a chance to earn the points that were potentially taken from him or her because of the foul. 

More trips to the line equal easier points, and a twist to games that come down to the wire. 

It’s not surprising to see high-level games come down to fouls and free throws in the last minute. In the world of knockdown shooters, heading to the line - for a shot they practice every day - is easy. 

Last year, the NCAA concluded that the teams who shot more free throws, won more games. Take Duke for example, a team that’s consistently been a dominant team in college basketball since 1983, Coach K’s fourth season as Duke’s head coach. The Blue Devils have attempted 8,433 free throws in the last decade, with 555 makes on 767 attempts. Within that decade, Duke has tracked a 329-77 record, for a win percentage of 81 percent. 

The correlation - free throws attempts equal more wins - isn’t isolated to the best teams in basketball. The NCAA looked at 355 teams, which tracked a median for free throws per game - 20.6. Teams that feel below the median had an average win percentage of 48.9 percent. Teams that were above it won 54.6 percent of their games. 

In one article, the NCAA looked at the best overall free-throw shooting teams this century, combining the number of free throws each team made per game with their percentage from the line. Villanova, 2016 and 2018 National Champions, was the number one team in that study. 

In both NCAA Championship wins, Villanova shot more free throws than its opponent.