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March Madness: Victory Comes at the Free Throw Line

by George Mitrovich, published

In round one yesterday of March Madness, the premier spectacle of American sports, 32 teams went to the free throw line 634 times and converted 438 of their charitable gifts (you are not reading this anywhere else).

Sixty-nine percent ain't that good; but it ain't the bad, either.

But you are reading this because winning teams from the free throw line outshot their opponents in 12 of yesterday's 16 games.

In several games the difference was critical to the game's denouement.

In the Princeton/Notre Dame game, won by the Irish, 60-58, ND went to the line 21 times, made good on 14, while Princeton had only six chances at the line, making all six.

So, Notre Dame, from the mighty ACC, beat Princeton of the little regarded Ivy League, but victory came at the line.

Obviously, when you win by two and have outscored your opponent by eight at the line, the difference in fouls whistled is *troubling – and I am a Notre Dame fan.

Virginia, in its 76-71 win over UNC Wilmington, outscored UNCW by six in free throws.

In Arizona's 100-82 victory vs. North Dakota, 16 of the Wildcats' winning margin of 18 came in free throws.

Northwestern, a Methodist school, beat Vanderbilt, another Methodist school, by two, 68-66, and outscored the Commodores by five from the line, but both teams had the same number of chances, 18. So no complaint there.

Two teams had 39 chances at the line, 32 more than their opposition, which is why Florida State beat Florida Gulf Coast, 86-80, and St. Mary beat Virginia Commonwealth University (WCU), 85-77.

The 22 points difference from the line were game winners.

*I have long contended that disparity in fouls called and free throws attempted is too many times the difference in winning or losing, but my efforts to persuade basketball writers to take note of the disparity have mostly been ignored.

I did a quick read of the AP's 16 stories of the 16 games played and in only one story, Bucknell/West Virginia, were free throws even mentioned, and only because WV converted four at game's end.

You may choose to side with the professional writers of the game and ignore an amateur scribbler like me, but if that's the choice you make, you, like the “professionals,” would be wrong.

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