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Published: December 23, 2016

Four Factor Friday: Dec. 23, 2016

In this edition of Four Factor Friday, we’re taking a look at the free throw rate of three UNC big men — Isaiah Hicks, Kennedy Meeks, and Tony Bradley.

What is free throw rate?

The more free throws a team attempts, the better opportunity it has to score and win games.
This is measured through a team’s free throw rate.

It’s the amount of free throw attempts divided by the amount of the field goal attempts.

FTRate = Free Throw Attempts / Field Goal Attempts

Like all of the four factors, it’s measured both offensively and defensively. A team’s ability to get to the foul line is equally important as its ability to keep the other team from getting to the foul line.

Volume is more important here. If a team or individual can attempt more free throws, it has a better chance to score and win.

What about made free throws?

You can measure makes too. Instead of using the free throw attempts, you can use free throw makes.

`FTMRate = Free Throw Makes / Field Goal Attempts`

For the purpose of this article, we’re only measuring field throw attempts or getting to the line.

So why look at the UNC big men?

Post players often have the highest offensive free throw rates. The bigs are taking closer shots, drawing lots of contact, and usually taking lots of free throws relative to their total amount of field goal attempts.

The same is true when it comes to keeping the opponent off the foul line. Forwards and centers are often the ones committing lots of fouls that get their opponents to the charity stripe. Foul trouble also keeps these players from staying on the floor and helping their teams win.

Let’s take a look how three Tar Heel big men get to the foul line and keep the opponent off the foul line.

Isaiah Hicks

The senior forward’s foul trouble is well-documented. Hicks committed 6.7 fouls per 40 minutes a year ago, and has committed 4 or more fouls in 45 percent of the games he’s played in since the start of the 2015–16 season.

UNC play-by-play announcer, Jones Angell, pointed out how foul trouble has kept Hicks off the floor this season heading into the Northern Iowa game.

One stat going into the game: Isaiah Hicks has only played 46 total mins (15.3/gm) in last 3 games b/c of fouls. UNC would like more tonight

— Jones Angell (@JonesAngell) December 21, 2016

In the Kentucky loss, Hicks picked up three fouls playing only nine minutes in the first half. He then picked up his fourth foul with about 17 minutes to go in the second half, and only played 15 total minutes in the 103–100 loss.

Roy Williams has indicated he believes Hicks’ reputation for committing fouls earns him some bad breaks from the officials.

Here is closer look at the four fouls Hicks committed during the Kentucky game:

  1. Bumping into De’Aaron Fox in transition
  2. Leaning on Wenyen Gabriel’s drive to the basket
  3. Attempting to block Bam Adebayo’s shot behind teammate Tony Bradley, and fouling Gabriel on his back
  4. Leaning into Malik Monk in transition for an “and-1”

A few of these fouls could have been avoided. The fourth foul was a late whistle, and Hicks probably should have opted to concede the layup to Monk.

The third foul, which prompted a jacket tossing from his head coach, was a tough break. It was a garbage call. If you want to play devil’s advocate, Hicks could have stayed in position and let Bradley defend the shot from Adebayo and perhaps pull down the defensive board instead.

Either way, if UNC wants to make a deep run in March, it needs Hicks on the floor. You saw how good he was during the last four minutes against Kentucky, and how he put Northern Iowa’s Juwan McCloud on a poster. UNC is much better with Hicks playing than sitting on the bench.

On the offensive side of the ball, Hicks gets the foul line the least amongst the Tar Heel big men. The Oxford, NC native has attempted 39 total free throws and 108 total field goals. Hicks’s FT Rate is 36.1.

While Hicks doesn’t get to the line a ton, he does shoot a solid percentage (79 percent) from the foul line. The senior has made 31 out of 39 attempts from the foul line this season.

Hicks attempts 5.1 free throws per 40 minutes this season. A season ago, Hicks attempted 6.8 foul shots per 40 minutes. That mark was good enough to lead the entire UNC team, including a touch better than Brice Johnson (6.6 free throw attempts per 40 minutes).

If Hicks stays out of foul trouble on the defensive end, he could find himself getting to line more on the offensive end this season and that would bode well for Carolina.

Kennedy Meeks

Classmate Kennedy Meeks posts a 46.1 free throw rate this season. Meeks has attempted 57 free throws and 125 total field goals. 57 attempts leads UNC this season, and Meeks draws 5.6 fouls per 40 minutes according to Ken Pomeroy.

Against Northern Iowa, Meeks attempted nine free throws en route to scoring a team-high 18 points. Meeks has attempted nine or more free throws only two other times in his career. His career-high is 14 attempts on November 16, 2014 against Robert Morris.

As Adrian has charted, Meeks also leads Carolina in “and-1s” this season. With 7:19 remaining against Northern Iowa, Meeks confidently took the ball in the paint and fouled out the Panthers’ Bennett Koch.

Team-leading 5th "and-1" of the season for Meeks; he's only converted 1 of them, though.

— Adrian Atkinson (@FreeportKid) December 22, 2016

On the downside, Meeks has only made 33 of his 57 foul shot attempts meaning he’s only shooting 58 percent from the line. There is room for improvement because Meeks has shot a better percentage from the line in the past. He shot 69 percent last season, and 64 percent in his sophomore campaign.

While he’s getting to the line often, Meeks has had some of his own foul troubles on the defensive end. The senior has fouled out twice this season, and committed four fouls in the loss at Indiana.

Meeks committed two offensive fouls against Kentucky, and fouled out in the game with 4:54 to go on a cowardly double-foul call by the officials. With Meeks on the bench, Kentucky went on to win 103–100. Could Meeks have helped on the offensive glass the last few Tar Heel possessions? We’ll never know.

Just as it’s important for Hicks to stay out of foul trouble, it might be equally important for Meeks. The Charlotte, NC native is Carolina’s best defensive rebounder and arguably the team’s best post defender. Meeks has 20 more defensive rebounds than the next UNC player (Justin Jackson) and a stop percentage of 65.9 percent according to Adrian’s charts.

While fans have loved criticizing Meeks over the past four years, he’s shown he can be the best player on Carolina’s team at times this season. In Maui, Meeks pulled down 13 defensive boards and scored 15 points in UNC’s decisive win over Wisconsin.

Tony Bradley

There is a ton to like about this UNC freshman. Folks are comparing Tony Bradley to Tim Duncan and Brad Daugherty for a reason. The offensive numbers are impressive.

Bradley attempts a staggering 10.3 free throw attempts per 40 minutes this season. His FT Rate is 78.9. The freshman has attempted 56 free throws and 71 total shots.

Ken Pomeroy has Bradley drawing 7.1 fouls per 40 minutes. This mark ranks 51st amongst all Division-I players, and leads Carolina by a wide margin.

Against Kentucky, Bradley attempted six free throws in 15 minutes on the court. Despite shooting only 64 percent from the line on the year, he made all six of those free throws against the Wildcats.

If all the numbers are so encouraging, this begs the question — why doesn’t Bradley play more?

Not sure there is a definite answer. There is certainly a lot of room to improve defensively for Bradley, so that could be one reason.

The Bartow, Florida native has only eight blocks on the year. He has shown the ability to alter shots without fouling at times. Bradley’s also committed four fouls three different times this season, and commits 3.8 fouls per 40 minutes.

Another reason why he’s not playing more could be conditioning. Roy Williams indicated that Bradley’s conditioning is still a work-in-progress, and Adrian pointed out a couple defensive lapses at the end of one of his stints on the court against Kentucky:

At the end of one stint, he drifted out of position (near the top of the key) and the team allowed two offensive rebounds with its center out of the paint (and not working hard to get back in it). He followed that up by immediately missing a lay-up on the other end.

Here is a replay of the end of that stint. Bradley entered the game with 6:26 left in the first half, and came out after missing a layup with 1:30 to go.


Why is this important?

The Tar Heels have a front line that makes most opponents blush. A couple talented seniors, and a promising freshman to back them up.

It doesn’t matter, though, if that front line is on the bench because of foul trouble. When Hicks and Meeks are not on the floor, it’s a different Carolina team.

Can Hicks, Meeks, and Bradley defend without fouling in the future?

Through 13 games this season, Carolina has attempted 335 free throws. 45 percent of those attempts are from these three big men.

UNC has made 237 free throws and its opponents have attempted 207 free throws. If the trend continues, Carolina will make more free throws than their opponents attempt for the first time since 2012. If the Tar Heels make that a reality, these three big men will be a major reason why.

Can the Tar Heel frontline get to the foul line more as conference play looms?

It’s going to be fun to find out.

This was originally published Dec. 23, 2016 on Adrian Atkinson’s The Secondary Break.