The laundry list of positive things Mick Cronin has brought to the Cincinnati Bearcats is endless. You could mention the stifling defense, the never-say-die attitude from this team, or the fact that the players stay out of trouble and are outstanding representatives of this university. All of which would be correct and why I hope Mick retires at UC sometime in the very distant future.
But one aspect of his teams that has actually been detrimental to the program is his players’ free throw shooting. To be blunt, it’s been downright terrible since Mick took over the head coaching duties all those years ago and has cost the Bearcats more than a few games during his tenure. But this season, it’s actually been quite good. Just take a look at these numbers.
Free Throw %
Obviously when it comes to data the numbers only tell us part of story. Maybe the coaches are making more of a concerted effort in practice. Maybe Mick Cronin forced his more sight-impaired players to wear contacts for the first time in eight years. I’m not sure. But to help us answer that question we can begin by evaluate the players’ shooting between last season and this season. Additionally, we’ll look at the players who graduated last year and the major new contributors at the free throw line this year.
1) JaQuon Parker is no longer in the lineup
Parker did a lot for this team. He was the quintessential “glue guy” his junior year and an excellent all around guard as a senior. I can’t count how many times Parker would snag an errant shot off the rim with several 6’8″ and 6’9″ forwards crowding around him. But it really was addition by subtraction at the free throw line when he graduated. Parker shot just 54.2% from there in 2012-13 and considering he went to stripe 144 times that season (2nd to only Sean Kilpatrick), you can see why it would really pull down the team’s average.
Essentially when Mick Cronin replaced his spot in the lineup with Troy Caupain (73.5% FT shooter) and Kevin Johnson (82.6% FT shooter), it created more efficiency out of the guard position from the stripe. That has really bolstered Cincinnati’s free throw numbers this season.
2) Sean Kilpatrick has become even more deadly from the stripe
Cincinnati’s senior guard has always been one of the team’s best free throw shooters and that’s been especially critical for the Bearcats considering how much he gets to the stripe. Kilpatrick puts on a clinic on how to be aggressive with the basketball and drive to the hoop. In doing so he draws a lot of fouls and makes it to the free throw line more than any other Bearcat (104 times this year, 145 in 2012-13).
The difference this season is that he’s become even better at making those shots. A 73.8% make rate was pretty good for last year’s squad but ballooning that to 85.6% is huge for Cincinnati in 2013-14.
3) Big Dave can drain free throws! Same with Shaq Thomas!
Nyarsuk is the poster child for making the most of his court time, whether it be grabbing rebounds, getting quick points around the basket, or just taking up space in the paint. The same came be said for his free throw shooting. He only garners a few minutes per game but Big Dave has really made them count this season. Now, Nyarsuk’s only attempted just 7 free throws this year but his 85.7% make rate (up 32% from last year) does pull up the average just a bit.
Even more so does Shaq Thomas because he’s not only shooting about 25% better from the free throw line this season, he also gets there the 5th most of any Bearcat. Out of 45 attempts, Thomas is draining an impressive 73.3% of them. Considering how much he emulates Kilpatrick’s slashing abilities, the fact that Shaq can hit almost three-quarters of his free throws is critical for the Bearcats down the stretch.