With all due respect to Denis Clemente, his absence isn’t important enough to Kansas State to drive the preseason No. 3 team into a tailspin.
Rather, the cause of Kansas State’s pain this season is almost entirely related to the team’s lack of charity work — a flat-out awful 58.7 percent free throw shooting rate.
Plenty of analysts are blaming the quick decline of the Wildcats on the graduation of Clemente in May. Yes, the team’s starting point guard helped keep the offense on pace throughout last season as he led the team with 4.2 assists per game. But Clemente was a poor — and frequent — shooter on a team with reliable options in other spots.
Clemente ended last season with a 40.5 shooting percentage, and he attempted nearly 50 more shots than the team’s leading scorer, Jacob Pullen, did. His Total Impact Quotient was a dismal 2.4 points, indicating that Clemente’s production might have been significant but wasn’t necessarily critical to Kansas State’s success relative to the other options on the team.
This season, Kansas State has significantly regressed in free throw shooting. To worsen matters, Kansas State’s offense has been more passive. The Wildcats attempted nearly 30 free throws per game last season; they’re right around 25 attempts this season. Combine the team’s lack of aggression and lack of execution, and you have about five fewer points per game at the line.
Of Kansas State’s six losses, the Wildcats lost to UNLV by four and Colorado by eight. On a so-called neutral court in Kansas City, Mo., against Duke, the Wildcats missed 12 free throws in a 14-point loss. Who knows how those games would have played out if Kansas State’s free throw production matched last season’s — let alone approached a respectable 70 percent free throw shooting rate.
And the Wildcats share the blame on this one. Pullen has dipped from 82.2 percent from the line in 2009-10 to 73.9 percent this season. Rodney McGruder is down to 60.6 percent from 72.0 percent; Cutis Kelly is down to 50.0 percent from 66.7 percent; Wally Judge down to an awful 43.8 percent from an already bad 58.1 percent.
This year’s Kansas State squad isn’t a particularly great shooting team from the field at 44.3 percent. But if you’re one of the Wildcats’ opponents and your man has a shot within 10 feet, why wouldn’t you smack him as hard as you could and force him to make two from the line? It would defy the law of averages for Kansas State to make both free throws.
Kansas State might miss the leadership and charisma of Clemente, but the Wildcats can only blame themselves for their unexpected struggles on the court this season.