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Daniel Wilco | NCAA.com | November 30, 2018

College basketball's best free throw shooting teams this century

USA Today Sports Images Villanova's Phil Booth shoots a free throw Since 2001, Villanova has been the most accurate team in the country from the free throw line.

There isn’t much of a better equalizer in measuring college basketball teams than the free throw. That one shot is the exact same for every single team in the sport. Yet some teams excel from the charity stripe while others make the “free” part look ironic.

So we decided to rank teams by their free-throw shooting performance this century.

And the winner was Villanova.

RELATED: The best 3-point shooting college basketball teams this century

How did we get there? 

Looking solely at free throw percentage or free throws made per game would be insufficient. How do you decide whether a team that went 5-for-5 is better than a team that went 8-for-10? Instead, we created a quick and dirty free throw index — a measurement of how teams perform compared to the field in both categories. (If you want to see the exact formula we used and a more in-depth explanation of it, scroll to the bottom of this article.)

In the 18 years we looked at, Villanova had the highest free-throw percentage (74.41 percent), and the 13th-most made free throws per game (16.59). No other team in Division I can beat that.

The full rankings are below, but first, a few takeaways from the data:

  • Not counting the 2018-19 season, there have been 3,948,821 free throws shot by Division I teams this century. Of those, 2,738,488 were made.
  • Since 2001, the average Division I team shoots 20.7 free throws per game and makes 14.3. But those numbers are actually trending down. In 2001, teams shot an average of 22.4 and made 15.4. In 2018, they’re shooting 19.6 and making 14.
  • As a result, a slightly non-surprising trend follows: Free throw percentage has increased nearly every year. Last season saw the highest mark this century, with teams making 71.3 percent of their free throws. 
  • The best free-throw shooting performance this century came from Wisconsin in 2011. That year, the Badgers were 436-for-533 from the line, good for 81.8 percent. That Wisconsin team went 25-9 on the season, earning a 4-seed in the NCAA tournament, where they lost in the Sweet 16 to national championship runner-up Butler.
  • Besides Wisconsin, only six teams have shot at least 80 percent from the line on a season this century:
Year School FTM FTA FT% Record
2011 Wisconsin 436 533 0.818 25-9
2012 Weber State 538 661 0.814 25-7
2018 William & Mary 479 591 0.81 19-12
2011 Harvard 523 646 0.81 23-7
2018 Central Michigan 573 711 0.806 21-15
2018 Marquette 483 600 0.805 21-14
2017 Notre Dame 489 611 0.8 26-10
  • The worst showing this century came from Prairie View in 2012. The Panthers were 340-for-629 — 54.1 percent. They went 14-18 on the season.
  • No one has shot more free throws in a season than Kentucky did in 2014. The Wildcats went to the line 1,146 times that year — almost 500 times more than the average of 653. Yet they only made 68.2 percent of their shots. That’s 365 points left on the court. To be fair, Kentucky played 40 games that season — way higher than the average of 32 since 2001. If you wanted the team that went to the free throw line the most often, that’d be Nevada in 2002. The Wolfpack shot 31.7 free throws per game that year — the most this century.

Here are the full rankings (includes all teams that were part of Division I between 2001 and 2018):

RANK School FT/G FT% FT index
1 Villanova 16.59 74.41% 0.933
2 Incarnate Word 17.40 72.34% 0.925
3 Arizona 16.81 73.49% 0.918
4 Duke 17.18 72.22% 0.902
5 South Dakota State 16.23 74.12% 0.894
6 Brigham Young 16.62 72.93% 0.882
7 Gonzaga 16.85 72.23% 0.875
8 Weber State 16.35 72.90% 0.859
9 Omaha 16.26 72.97% 0.854
10 Xavier 16.72 71.80% 0.849
11 Niagara 17.04 71.04% 0.848
12 Cal State Northridge 16.70 71.66% 0.842
13 Nevada 16.76 71.26% 0.834
14 Oakland 16.60 71.35% 0.823
15 Grand Canyon 16.92 70.35% 0.813
16 Oklahoma State 15.95 72.07% 0.796
17 Wyoming 16.71 70.25% 0.792
18 Oral Roberts 15.89 71.82% 0.782
19 Colorado State 16.26 70.92% 0.780
20 Marquette 15.71 72.07% 0.776
21 Western Michigan 16.03 71.08% 0.767
22 Manhattan 16.23 70.64% 0.767
23 Wake Forest 16.58 69.72% 0.763
24 Maryland 16.01 70.90% 0.759
25 Evansville 15.50 71.98% 0.756
26 Oregon 15.22 72.59% 0.755
27 Utah Valley 14.98 72.74% 0.741
28 St. Bonaventure 15.31 71.95% 0.739
29 Wichita State 15.11 72.19% 0.732
30 South Dakota 15.11 72.20% 0.732
31 Lehigh 14.86 72.70% 0.730
32 North Carolina 16.05 69.95% 0.728
33 Drake 14.82 72.63% 0.723
34 Notre Dame 14.61 73.07% 0.722
35 Tennessee Tech 15.99 69.84% 0.718
36 Texas Tech 15.47 70.96% 0.717
37 North Texas 16.41 68.75% 0.713
38 New Mexico 15.88 69.94% 0.713
39 Stanford 15.62 70.38% 0.708
40 Harvard 14.68 72.45% 0.706
41 Connecticut 15.52 70.47% 0.703
42 North Carolina State 15.27 71.01% 0.702
43 Green Bay 14.97 71.67% 0.701
44 Iowa 15.36 70.77% 0.701
45 North Carolina-Asheville 15.37 70.74% 0.700
46 Lafayette 14.02 73.70% 0.697
47 Texas-El Paso 15.96 69.28% 0.696
48 Davidson 14.19 73.28% 0.696
49 Northern Colorado 15.34 70.68% 0.695
50 Oklahoma 14.68 72.13% 0.694
51 Providence 15.34 70.60% 0.693
52 Colorado 15.62 69.94% 0.692
53 Georgetown 14.95 71.41% 0.690
54 Brown 15.15 70.93% 0.689
55 Morehead State 14.89 71.44% 0.687
56 Siena 15.40 70.24% 0.685
57 Tulsa 15.47 70.09% 0.685
58 Indiana 14.97 71.21% 0.685
59 Long Island University 15.90 69.10% 0.685
60 Centenary (LA) 15.07 70.96% 0.684
61 Northwestern State 16.52 67.68% 0.683
62 Kentucky 15.66 69.60% 0.683
63 Texas-Arlington 15.85 69.13% 0.682
64 Ohio 15.13 70.70% 0.679
65 Central Michigan 15.04 70.80% 0.676
66 Kansas 15.54 69.64% 0.674
67 Creighton 14.38 72.22% 0.673
68 Mercer 14.92 70.89% 0.669
69 Lamar 16.06 68.08% 0.661
70 East Tennessee State 15.52 69.29% 0.661
71 Saint Mary's (CA) 14.74 71.03% 0.659
72 North Dakota State 14.29 72.02% 0.659
73 Chattanooga 15.87 68.44% 0.658
74 Michigan State 14.31 71.95% 0.657
75 Birmingham-Southern 15.11 70.05% 0.654
76 Tennessee 15.25 69.69% 0.653
77 Missouri 14.89 70.50% 0.652
78 Eastern Washington 14.69 70.91% 0.651
79 New Mexico State 15.89 68.20% 0.651
80 Vanderbilt 14.58 71.14% 0.650
81 Lipscomb 15.69 68.56% 0.648
82 Texas A&M-Corpus Christi 15.41 69.11% 0.644
83 Purdue 14.66 70.78% 0.643
84 Little Rock 15.22 69.51% 0.643
85 Southern Mississippi 15.21 69.51% 0.643
86 Utah 14.10 71.89% 0.638
87 Albany (NY) 13.68 72.84% 0.638
88 Butler 14.15 71.77% 0.638
89 Murray State 14.89 70.05% 0.636
90 Baylor 14.59 70.71% 0.635
91 Rice 14.65 70.57% 0.635
92 Utah State 13.94 72.17% 0.635
93 IUPUI 14.28 71.34% 0.633
94 Iona 15.01 69.69% 0.633
95 Nevada-Las Vegas 15.07 69.51% 0.632
96 Southern Utah 14.43 70.98% 0.632
97 Houston Baptist 15.55 68.42% 0.631
98 Missouri State 14.41 70.97% 0.630
99 Portland 14.23 71.34% 0.629
100 Boston College 14.64 70.41% 0.629
101 Texas 15.55 68.34% 0.628
102 Arkansas State 15.00 69.58% 0.628
103 Montana 14.56 70.55% 0.627
104 Northern Iowa 13.63 72.66% 0.627
105 Bradley 14.40 70.80% 0.623
106 Austin Peay 15.46 68.40% 0.623
107 Vermont 14.83 69.82% 0.623
108 Alabama 14.92 69.60% 0.622
109 Hawaii 15.00 69.39% 0.621
110 Arizona State 14.91 69.60% 0.621
111 Marshall 15.45 68.37% 0.621
112 Yale 14.79 69.87% 0.621
113 La Salle 14.16 71.22% 0.618
114 Florida State 14.84 69.68% 0.618
115 North Carolina Central 14.76 69.85% 0.618
116 Arkansas 15.20 68.85% 0.618
117 Washington 15.21 68.80% 0.617
118 West Virginia 14.76 69.77% 0.615
119 Valparaiso 14.65 69.97% 0.613
120 Santa Clara 14.18 71.00% 0.613
121 Sam Houston State 15.78 67.36% 0.612
122 Belmont 13.99 71.40% 0.611
123 Virginia 13.91 71.54% 0.610
124 Bucknell 14.54 70.02% 0.606
125 UC-Davis 13.98 71.26% 0.605
126 Miami (FL) 13.99 71.20% 0.604
127 Portland State 14.84 69.28% 0.604
128 Buffalo 14.99 68.88% 0.602
129 Texas-San Antonio 15.48 67.78% 0.602
130 Loyola Marymount 14.39 70.23% 0.602
131 Boise State 14.24 70.53% 0.600
132 Saint Joseph's 14.65 69.58% 0.600
133 New Orleans 15.45 67.74% 0.598
134 Wright State 13.99 71.01% 0.597
135 Memphis 15.77 66.94% 0.595
136 Texas State 15.26 68.08% 0.595
137 Kent State 14.51 69.76% 0.595
138 Charlotte 15.17 68.25% 0.594
139 Florida 14.42 69.87% 0.591
140 North Dakota 14.98 68.58% 0.590
141 Northern Arizona 14.28 70.16% 0.590
142 Loyola (MD) 14.67 69.28% 0.590
143 George Washington 14.93 68.69% 0.590
144 University of California 14.44 69.79% 0.590
145 Mississippi 14.63 69.36% 0.589
146 Georgia 14.65 69.31% 0.589
147 Pacific 14.30 70.09% 0.589
148 Tennessee-Martin 14.51 69.57% 0.587
149 Wisconsin 13.81 71.09% 0.585
150 Indiana State 14.04 70.50% 0.583
151 Toledo 14.39 69.72% 0.583
152 Delaware 14.45 69.57% 0.583
153 Fairfield 14.04 70.36% 0.578
154 Minnesota 14.30 69.77% 0.577
155 Robert Morris 14.08 70.22% 0.576
156 Kansas State 15.25 67.57% 0.576
157 Quinnipiac 14.92 68.30% 0.575
158 Cal State Fullerton 14.51 69.16% 0.573
159 Pepperdine 14.25 69.72% 0.571
160 Bowling Green State 13.97 70.31% 0.570
161 Central Connecticut State 13.51 71.36% 0.570
162 Monmouth 14.15 69.85% 0.568
163 UC-Santa Barbara 13.72 70.77% 0.566
164 Northeastern 13.84 70.46% 0.564
165 Liberty 13.94 70.20% 0.564
166 Houston 14.26 69.45% 0.562
167 Virginia Tech 14.75 68.32% 0.562
168 Jacksonville 14.65 68.54% 0.562
169 Tennessee State 14.23 69.48% 0.561
170 Ball State 14.42 69.03% 0.561
171 Alabama-Birmingham 14.35 69.16% 0.560
172 Louisville 14.60 68.58% 0.559
173 Stephen F. Austin 14.24 69.39% 0.559
174 Appalachian State 14.54 68.69% 0.558
175 Dayton 14.39 69.00% 0.557
176 UCLA 14.12 69.58% 0.556
177 Illinois-Chicago 14.38 69.00% 0.556
178 Abilene Christian 13.49 70.94% 0.553
179 San Diego 14.35 68.98% 0.553
180 Eastern Michigan 14.74 68.10% 0.553
181 Coppin State 13.81 70.15% 0.551
182 Campbell 14.33 68.96% 0.551
183 Texas Christian 15.03 67.33% 0.549
184 South Alabama 14.64 68.21% 0.549
185 Eastern Illinois 13.17 71.52% 0.548
186 Louisiana 15.10 67.13% 0.548
187 Iowa State 13.82 70.03% 0.547
188 Idaho State 14.20 69.16% 0.547
189 Michigan 12.63 72.71% 0.547
190 Eastern Kentucky 13.24 71.30% 0.546
191 Akron 14.36 68.76% 0.546
192 Southern Methodist 14.11 69.30% 0.545
193 Texas Southern 15.58 65.96% 0.545
194 Holy Cross 14.08 69.35% 0.545
195 Montana State 14.12 69.28% 0.544
196 Hofstra 14.79 67.72% 0.544
197 Ohio State 14.06 69.36% 0.543
198 Middle Tennessee 14.19 69.03% 0.542
199 Western Kentucky 14.52 68.29% 0.542
200 UC-Irvine 13.62 70.31% 0.542
201 Hampton 15.40 66.28% 0.541
202 Seton Hall 14.15 69.08% 0.541
203 Milwaukee 14.18 69.00% 0.540
204 Missouri-Kansas City 13.78 69.92% 0.540
205 Loyola (IL) 13.46 70.59% 0.538
206 Columbia 12.99 71.64% 0.538
207 Syracuse 14.52 68.15% 0.537
208 Massachusetts-Lowell 13.67 70.06% 0.537
209 James Madison 14.03 69.25% 0.536
210 Virginia Commonwealth 14.20 68.81% 0.535
211 Tulane 14.41 68.33% 0.534
212 VMI 14.23 68.71% 0.533
213 George Mason 14.18 68.77% 0.532
214 Long Beach State 14.49 68.07% 0.531
215 William & Mary 13.55 70.17% 0.530
216 Rhode Island 14.43 68.16% 0.530
217 Washington State 13.12 71.12% 0.529
218 Denver 12.70 72.04% 0.529
219 Southeast Missouri State 14.10 68.86% 0.528
220 Fresno State 14.30 68.41% 0.528
221 East Carolina 14.38 68.19% 0.527
222 Texas-Rio Grande Valley 14.47 67.99% 0.527
223 Marist 13.78 69.52% 0.525
224 Rider 14.24 68.42% 0.524
225 Wagner 14.08 68.70% 0.521
226 North Carolina-Greensboro 13.88 69.15% 0.521
227 Saint Francis (PA) 13.33 70.36% 0.519
228 Duquesne 14.24 68.30% 0.519
229 Howard 14.61 67.43% 0.518
230 Detroit Mercy 13.95 68.83% 0.515
231 Texas A&M 14.63 67.28% 0.514
232 San Diego State 14.19 68.27% 0.514
233 McNeese State 14.10 68.39% 0.511
234 Miami (OH) 12.80 71.22% 0.507
235 High Point 13.75 69.08% 0.507
236 Fort Wayne 13.44 69.75% 0.506
237 Illinois 12.97 70.80% 0.506
238 Drexel 14.02 68.40% 0.505
239 Oregon State 14.08 68.25% 0.505
240 Cal State Bakersfield 14.05 68.27% 0.503
241 St. John's (NY) 14.18 67.96% 0.502
242 Louisiana State 13.88 68.62% 0.502
243 Cleveland State 13.47 69.55% 0.501
244 Jacksonville State 13.95 68.39% 0.499
245 Mississippi State 14.23 67.74% 0.498
246 Citadel 13.48 69.44% 0.498
247 Penn State 13.18 70.07% 0.497
248 Louisiana Tech 14.26 67.63% 0.496
249 Furman 13.32 69.74% 0.496
250 Nebraska 13.59 69.10% 0.495
251 College of Charleston 13.28 69.74% 0.492
252 Pittsburgh 14.18 67.63% 0.490
253 South Carolina State 14.10 67.77% 0.489
254 Southern Illinois 13.75 68.56% 0.489
255 Boston University 13.20 69.80% 0.488
256 NJIT 13.65 68.78% 0.488
257 Cincinnati 13.92 68.16% 0.488
258 Jackson State 14.32 67.23% 0.487
259 Sacramento State 13.98 67.96% 0.486
260 Towson 14.29 67.25% 0.486
261 Northern Illinois 14.15 67.56% 0.485
262 Fairleigh Dickinson 13.89 68.13% 0.484
263 Winthrop 14.02 67.83% 0.484
264 Idaho 13.55 68.74% 0.479
265 Western Carolina 13.56 68.71% 0.478
266 Cal Poly 13.14 69.65% 0.478
267 Central Florida 13.90 67.92% 0.478
268 Georgia Southern 14.29 66.97% 0.475
269 Canisius 13.02 69.83% 0.474
270 Navy 13.76 68.10% 0.473
271 Southern California 13.84 67.90% 0.472
272 San Francisco 13.81 67.97% 0.472
273 Coastal Carolina 13.77 68.05% 0.472
274 Illinois State 13.15 69.45% 0.472
275 Norfolk State 14.43 66.51% 0.471
276 Stetson 13.62 68.32% 0.469
277 Auburn 14.39 66.54% 0.468
278 SIU Edwardsville 13.83 67.80% 0.467
279 Cornell 12.57 70.51% 0.462
280 Alabama A&M 14.86 65.31% 0.462
281 Saint Louis 13.48 68.38% 0.460
282 North Florida 13.58 68.11% 0.458
283 Stony Brook 13.35 68.60% 0.457
284 Nicholls State 13.72 67.75% 0.457
285 Bryant 12.72 70.01% 0.457
286 Georgia Tech 13.61 67.97% 0.456
287 Wofford 13.11 69.10% 0.455
288 Alcorn State 14.46 66.00% 0.454
289 Florida Gulf Coast 13.70 67.70% 0.453
290 Georgia State 13.31 68.54% 0.452
291 Florida Atlantic 13.39 68.32% 0.451
292 Massachusetts 13.83 67.29% 0.449
293 Youngstown State 13.58 67.81% 0.447
294 Radford 14.19 66.41% 0.447
295 Pennsylvania 13.17 68.69% 0.446
296 Western Illinois 13.08 68.85% 0.445
297 Longwood 12.67 69.71% 0.442
298 Troy 12.90 69.14% 0.440
299 Richmond 12.75 69.45% 0.439
300 Morgan State 14.45 65.61% 0.439
301 South Carolina 13.41 67.91% 0.437
302 San Jose State 13.14 68.52% 0.437
303 Central Arkansas 14.41 65.55% 0.433
304 DePaul 13.23 68.16% 0.432
305 Maine 12.99 68.68% 0.430
306 Colgate 12.51 69.72% 0.429
307 Princeton 11.57 71.78% 0.426
308 Mount St. Mary's 12.92 68.71% 0.426
309 Army 12.37 69.87% 0.423
310 Air Force 12.36 69.88% 0.422
311 Northern Kentucky 12.61 69.30% 0.422
312 Temple 12.63 69.23% 0.421
313 North Carolina-Wilmington 12.90 68.54% 0.418
314 North Carolina A&T 14.32 65.30% 0.417
315 Sacred Heart 13.09 68.05% 0.416
316 St. Francis (NY) 13.79 66.32% 0.411
317 Maryland-Baltimore County 13.18 67.65% 0.408
318 Old Dominion 13.18 67.53% 0.405
319 New Hampshire 13.09 67.65% 0.401
320 Bethune-Cookman 13.51 66.56% 0.396
321 Clemson 13.36 66.87% 0.396
322 Samford 11.92 70.11% 0.395
323 UC-Riverside 12.70 68.31% 0.394
324 Florida A&M 14.05 65.22% 0.392
325 Seattle 12.95 67.67% 0.391
326 Southeastern Louisiana 13.43 66.57% 0.390
327 Florida International 13.65 66.06% 0.390
328 Gardner-Webb 12.78 67.66% 0.377
329 Binghamton 12.56 68.15% 0.376
330 Chicago State 13.03 67.08% 0.375
331 Rutgers 13.08 66.89% 0.373
332 Elon 12.59 68.01% 0.373
333 Charleston Southern 12.58 67.91% 0.369
334 American 12.06 69.08% 0.369
335 Saint Peter's 12.72 67.33% 0.359
336 Louisiana-Monroe 12.83 67.05% 0.358
337 Delaware State 11.88 69.19% 0.358
338 Presbyterian 11.56 69.89% 0.357
339 South Florida 13.28 65.97% 0.356
340 Kennesaw State 12.64 67.38% 0.355
341 Mississippi Valley State 13.06 66.36% 0.352
342 Grambling 13.29 65.80% 0.351
343 Southern 13.64 64.99% 0.350
344 Dartmouth 11.56 69.27% 0.335
345 Maryland-Eastern Shore 13.13 65.51% 0.327
346 Alabama State 13.66 64.00% 0.316
347 Northwestern 11.30 69.01% 0.304
348 Fordham 12.39 66.18% 0.291
349 Hartford 11.82 66.99% 0.274
350 Prairie View 13.15 62.87% 0.233
351 South Carolina Upstate 12.00 65.43% 0.231
352 Arkansas-Pine Bluff 12.40 64.33% 0.224
353 Savannah State 12.39 64.12% 0.216
354 Morris Brown 12.72 60.62% 0.116

Here’s the formula we used for that free-throw index:

Free throw index formula

There are three steps to it:

1. On the top left of the formula: Compare a team's free throws made per game to the range of free throws made per game among all schools.

2. On the top right of the formula: Compare a team's free throw percentage to the range of free throw percentages among all schools.

3. Combine those two numbers and take the average, giving us the free throw index. Generally speaking, a free throw index of 1 would be a team that is the best in both categories, while one of zero would be a team that is the worst in each category.