It seems so simple. Shoot a basketball from a line 15 feet away from a hoop suspended 10 feet above the floor. To make things easier, nobody is guarding you.
While free throws seem so easy, at times this season they have been the Wisconsin men's basketball team's Achilles' heel. The Badgers have shot just 66.7 percent from the free throw line this season-good for ninth in the Big Ten.
Included in that percentage are two tough losses to the nation's top team, Illinois, in which the Badgers shot 5-of-12 and 7-of-16 in 10- and 11-point losses, respectively.
With the Badgers' troubles from the line in mind, my sports-page entourage-C-Note, The J-Man, Jonny Mack-and I hit the court with one question in mind: Is making free throws really that difficult?
The challenge: We would pair up, put one group at each end of the court and then shoot 50 free throws (10 per round) each. Just for a little more incentive, the three losers would each owe the winner a beverage.
The goal: If the Badgers shoot about 67 percent, we needed to make at least 67 of 100.
I opened up with a round of eight, putting me two points ahead of my competition ... and I never looked back.
We stopped through 16 shots to see if we would have done better than the Badgers in their recent loss at Illinois. Each of us had made at least 9-of-16, and I was in the lead with 14.
At the half, only two of us were on pace to beat the Badgers. I was still leading the way with 38, while The J-Man-shooting in jeans-was on my tail with 36. After switching ends and taking a brief warm-up session at the new hoops, Jonny Mack opened the second half with a perfect round-the only one for anyone on the day-putting him right back on pace with UW.
He kept up a Badger-like pace, averaging seven per round the rest of the way, and finished 67-of-100. With a percentage like that, he felt the Badgers' pain. His shooting partner, C-Note, did not fare so well. He hit six more shots in the second half than in the first, but made more than seven in a round only once. He wound up with a Zach Morley-esque number of 62-of-100.
The J-Man had a good second half run going, but hit just five in his final round. His final shot was halfway down before it rimmed out (he was shooting with his eyes closed) and he finished 71-of-100, a total similar to Mike Wilkinson.
As for me, I hit the Badgers' mark of 67 with my eighth shot of the ninth round, hit eight more in the final round, and finished a respectable 76-of-100, as if I were Sharif Chambliss.
In fact, if I was a Division I team, I would rank eighth in the country.
Our numbers ended up looking a lot like the Badgers. We had a wide array of percentages and, as a group, averaged 69 percent, just a tad better than UW. Then again, we are a rag-tag group that hasn't played organized ball since high school.
The point is, if the Badgers have any hopes of succeeding in the Big Ten Tournament or the Big Dance, they are going to need to start hitting from the charity stripe.
Too many tournament games are won or lost at the line in the final minutes for the Badgers to overlook their incapacity to make free 15-footers.
The Badgers have had decent games-see; 20-of-22 in a losing effort at Indiana??-but the Badgers need to take these last four games and become more consistent if they have any hopes of surviving past the Sweet Sixteen come March.
Eric is a junior planning to major in history. For a free free-throw lesson, contact him at email@example.com.