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Gonzaga needs to figure out how to take more free throws

The Bulldogs struggle from the line, not only in their percentage but on getting there in the first place.

James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

There are things that the Gonzaga Bulldogs do fantastically. Unfortunately, following another loss to Arizona, it is no longer pertinent to focus on that at the moment. What we must focus on, is what Gonzaga isn't doing right, and potentially ways that they can fix it.

Dean Oliver, the guru of statistical analysis on basketball and the fantastic author of "Basketball on Paper" gave the four-factors to winning a basketball game to the world, and for the most part, they make sense. They are as follows: shooting, turnovers, rebounding, and free throws.

Seems common sense right? But by analyzing the numbers there, we can figure out where Gonzaga is struggling in areas, and how might they improve in those areas to reach their potential.

The obvious category is turnovers, which is correct, but not what today's focus is on. Today, we will take a look at free throws. Specifically, free throw attempts per field goal attempts, where Gonzaga is one of the worst teams in the nation.

According to Ken Pomeroy, the Zags are ranked No. 302 in the nation at 29.0 percent at free throw attempts per field goal attempts. Realistically, this number is skewed sadly even higher than it should be. The Zags have taken a total of 122 free throws this season, and over one-third of those game against the sloppily hacktastic Washington Huskies.

Combine this with a group of kids who are only hitting their free throws at a clip of 65.6 percent, good for No. 269 in the nation, and that is frustrating. The frustration level rises further when the team misses the front end of a one-and-one, therefore negating even more scoring potential. Gonzaga has missed the front end 11 times this season, however, a majority of those misses came in games against Northern Arizona and Mount St. Mary's.

Free throws are important for a myriad of reasons. They are called free throws because they are supposed to be free points. Foul trouble is a way to force kinks into an opposing coaches plan. They also allow time for substitutions. Also, they are just one of the ways in which an "elite" offense scores.

They are even more important in tight games. Realistically, you can say that Arizona should have beat the Zags by more than five points, considering they shot a measly 47.4 percent from the line. The Wildcats also made 11 more trips to the free throw line than the Zags did, and, despite completely clunking at the line, garnered three extra points more than the Zags from the free throw line. In close games, free throws become magnified in importance, and so far, Gonzaga seems quite interested in close games.

There was a lot of talk about "elite" thrown around in the comments section yesterday, and how we aren't an "elite" team. I won't weigh into that, but I will definitely say we aren't an "elite" offense. The numbers back it up. For us to be, we have to shore up turnovers and free throw attempts.

Free throws don't seem like the most important issue facing the Bulldogs right now, and I would agree, they probably aren't. But they are one of them, and free throws are an important factor into determining how efficient a team scores offensively. In modern basketball, how efficiently a team scores is generally more important than total score.
Take Kobe Bryant's performance in Game 1 of the 2004 NBA Finals. On paper, he did pretty decently, scoring 25 points, four rebounds, and four assists. He also shot 10-for-27 from the floor and chipped in three turnovers as well. The Lakers lost that game, not specifically because of Bryant, but his poor shot selection helped create chances for the Pistons to run away with the game.

So how do the Zags fix this? It is probably as simple as just being more aggressive. Kyle Wiltjer had a fluky game yesterday against Arizona, and considering that his performance is the reason the Zags were in the game, this comment isn't meant to be critical, just to serve the overall purpose of the Zags struggles. Since the start of the 2010-11 season, only 20 players have had games where they attempt at least 27 field goals and only attempt two or less free throw attempts. After yesterday, Kyle Wiltjer is now one of those 20 players.

Part of the issue is how the Zags stack up now. The frontcourt clogs the frontcourt, which is great, but it has forced our guards to be relegated to just strictly spot-up shooters. For team defenses, it is much easier to key in on that. Set up a solid zone, and Gonzaga is pretty much neutralized unless it maintains a strong inside-out game.

The Gonzaga guards, but also the frontcourt as well, need to be aggressive going to the hoop. We don't need to see quadruple pump fakes on an offensive board. Just go straight up to the rim and draw that foul. Likewise, the Gonzaga bigs need to do their job in helping space out the floor. The bodies of Gonzaga's big men often times don't leave any open lanes for the guards to dart in and try to try contact. And often times, when the guards do drive in, they go for a bizarre assist instead of the shot.

Again, the free throw conundrum isn't the most glaring issue pressing Gonzaga at the moment, but it is an issue. If the Gonzaga Bulldogs hope to make a deep run in March, it is something the coaching staff will need to address.