Lighting It Up

While West Virginia's basketball team has been struggling with its shooting from the field, opponents have been making hay from the free throw line.

As if overcoming the effects of poor shooting isn't enough of a challenge for the Mountaineers, they have faced another obstacle during their current losing streak - one that is pretty much out of their control.

The problem? Opponents' free throw shooting.

Over the last six games, each West Virginia foe has exceeded its season free throw shooting percentage, in some cases by a significant margin. And while that's by no means the sole reason for the five losses in those six games, it certainly has been a contributing factor.

It started off with the St. John's game, when the Red Storm hit 15 of their 20 attempts for a 75% success rate - easily exceeding their 69.1% mark from the field. WVU was able to weather that effort to pull out a 64-60 win, but since then it's been mostly downhill. Marshall (72.7% against WVU, 70.4% overall) and Boston College (71% - 70.6%) barely exceeded their averages, but in the last three games Mountaineer opponents have been on fire.

Notre Dame missed just one attempt, making 91.7% from the line, which easily blew by their season mark of 74.7%. Syracuse, typically a bad free throw shooting team, canned 16 of their 18 attempts (88.9%), a full 23 percentage points above their usual mark. And UConn, in a similar performance, exceed their season rate by almost 20% against WVU by hitting 80.6% (25-31) in Tuesday's game.

Of course, teams are going to occasionally top their averages by large margins, but there should be times that they fall below their marks as well. Unfortunately for the Mountaineers, that hasn't happened recently, and when added to shooting problems and other assorted woes, the result has been a string of defeats for the Gold and Blue.

Up next for the Mountaineers is Providence, which is making just 67.5% of their charity tosses. This game is a crucial one for WVU, and they would be greatly aided in their quest for a road win if the Friars don't light it up from the line.

Obviously, there's not much the Mountaineers can do to prevent teams from recording unconscious performances from the foul line, other than not putting them in position to make them in the first place. And that's something the Mountaineers are good at. WVU is second in the nation in that statistic, committing just 13.7 fouls per contest.

Short of letting the Mountaineer fire his rifle as teams let their shots go (as Cecil Graham once did to help preserve WVU's 1000th basketball win back in 1981), there's probably not much else the team can do to prevent this. It's simply a streak that will have to play itself out, hopefully sooner than later.

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