UNC looked the part of a National Champion for the majority of the 2015–16 season.
But where did the Tar Heels struggle?
A factor that gets overlooked is getting to the foul line. The 2015–16 team had its second lowest free throw rate under Roy Williams.
Free throw rate measures a team’s ability to get to the foul line. It takes a team’s free throw attempts and divides them by their total field goal attempts.
UNC ranked 285th in the country with a 32.3 offensive FTRate. Under Williams, it was only lower in 2013, when UNC turned in a 28.2 FTRate.
The Tar Heels didn’t get to the foul line often a year ago. UNC attempted 826 free throws out of 2,560 total shots.
FTRate = 826 / 2560 x 100 = 32.3
Free throw rate puts more value on getting to the foul line. Not making foul shots. Volume is more important. The assumption is that over time, a team that attempts more free throws is better than a team that makes more free throws.
And why is this important?
Because Roy Williams has often said he wants his teams to make more free throws than the other team attempts.
UNC has done just that in the past. 6 different times to be exact.
In each one of those seasons, Carolina’s worst finish was the Elite Eight. It made the Final Four 3 times, and won a couple national championships.
Here is a full breakdown of UNC’s made free throws versus its opponents’ attempted free throws each season under Williams:
In 6 of Roy Williams first 9 seasons on the UNC bench, the Tar Heels made more free throws than their opponent attempted.
They haven’t done that since 2012.
Let’s try to answer this using FTRate. Remember free throw rate measures a team’s ability to get to the foul line and prevent its opponent from getting to the foul line.
On the offensive side, UNC’s best FTRate was turned in by ’05 National Championship team at a 44.2 clip.
And in 10 of the past 13 years, the offensive FTRate was at least 37 or higher. 3 of the 4 lowest FTRates have come in the last 4 years, including 35.2 in 2015 and 32.3 in 2016.
And on defense, UNC has turned a defensive FTRate lower than 30 in 8 out of the last 13 years. The best was in the 2011–12 season where it led the country at a 21.8 clip.
Over the last 3 seasons, the Tar Heels have posted some of their worst defensive FTRates under Roy Williams. The 2013–14 season was the highest at 41.4, while last season saw a 30.4 clip.
It’s clear UNC is getting to the foul line less frequently than it once did under Williams, and they’re committing fouls that send their opponents to the foul line more frequently.
The trend in FTRate comes down to the players on the court. Past behavior is the best way to predict future behavior, so let’s take a look at this current roster’s ability to get the line and not commit fouls.
Let’s do this with 2 individual metrics:
Free throw attempts per 40 minutes (FTA per 40)
Fouls committed per 40 minutes (FC per 40)
And for fun, let’s compare this against previous players during the Roy Williams era. Active players are in bold, list sorted by FTA per 40.
The differences are stark. No surprise that Tyler Hansbrough attempted 11.30 free throws per 40 minutes because Hansbrough has made more free throws (982) than anyone in NCAA history.
Ty Lawson, a guard, attempted 6.10 free throws per 40 minutes over his career. That total beats any player’s career mark on the current roster, including post players like Hicks and Meeks.
On the flipside, the current roster has 4 out of the top 8 worst fouls committed per 40 minutes over their careers. Hicks (6.54) and Maye (5.84) are tops.
But it’s not really fair to compare this current roster with the rosters from the past. It’s a totally different team and group of players. Even a different game with rule changes like a 30-second shot clock.
We can compare some of the players to themselves and get more context.
For example, Kennedy Meeks averaged 6.18 free throws per 40 minutes in his first 2 years on the court. Last season? Only 3.59 free throws per 40 minutes.
With a healthy Meeks, you should expect more free throws from the senior.
And every preview about the upcoming UNC season mentions Isaiah Hicks’ foul trouble. Hicks committed an alarming 6.7 fouls per 40 minutes last season.
UNC play-by-play announcer, Jones Angell, signaled Hicks had at least 4 or 5 fouls in 19 out of 40 games played last season on the Carolina Insider podcast. And this mark was even slightly higher in his sophomore season, at 6.8 fouls per 40 minutes.
While staying out of foul trouble is important for Hicks, he’s likely UNC’s best chance to get to the foul line too.
Because Hicks averaged the most free throw attempts, 6.8 per 40 minutes, amongst any Tar Heel last season. Yes, even more than 2016 KenPom Play of Year Brice Johnson’s 6.6 attempts per 40 minutes.
Will Joel Berry II be more aggressive and get to the foul line?
What about newcomers like Tony Bradley, Brandon Robinson, and Seventh Woods?
And can the entire team play defense without fouling too?
Who knows. But if UNC makes more free throws than its opponents attempt for the first time since 2012, you can expect the Tar Heels being in the hunt in March. And maybe April too.
P.S. Thanks to KenPom.com, Sports-Reference Cbb, and GoHeels.com for statistical information. If you’re looking for an old UNC box score, check out dadgumboxscores.com. And if you’re curious about advanced stats for college hoops, search cbbstatshelp.com.