It started on Nov. 12 against James Madison. K-State made just 17 of 32 free throws, but it was said to be just a bad game. And, K-State won by 14 points, so it didn't really matter. Then the Wildcats made just half of their free throws (14-of-28) against Virginia Tech, and followed that with a 47 percent effort (9-of-19) against Presbyterian.
K-State was winning those games, so some overlooked the fact that a disturbing trend was starting.
Heading into a Friday night contest at 5-0 Washington State, it's now another four games later and K-State has made 55 percent from the foul line against Gonzaga, 48 percent against Duke, and 47 percent against Emporia State.
In just one game – 68 percent (13-of-19) vs. Texas Southern – have the Wildcats made better than 55 percent from the one-point stripe.
For the total season, the No. 5 ranked Wildcats are connecting on just .525 from the foul stripe
By comparison, that percentage – 68 percent – is what the K-State women are shooting as a team through its 6-0 start.
On the free throwing topic, K-State coach Frank Martin said, "Contrary to popular belief, we actually do talk about free throw shooting around here."
In practice last week, the 'Cats shot, missed, and ran; shot, missed, and ran; shot, missed, and ran.
"We put them in game situations, and shoot them, and we shoot them at the end of practice," said Martin of working on free throws. "If we don't meet a certain percentage, we run. I've been doing the same thing since 1985 (when he was a high school coach.)"
To Martin, "Free throw shooting is all mental. It's an ability to stand at the line and focus on the rim. If you make it, you make it; if you miss, you miss. The bottom line is the only one that matters is the next one being shot. That's where your focus should be and the one you're trying to make.
"I'd like everyone to make 100 percent. I'd like everyone to shoot 92 percent. (Pause) I'd like everyone on this team to shoot over 50 percent," Martin said.
While saying he's not overly into percentages, Martin said 72 percent is the goal in practices.
Of K-State's starters, only Nick Russell (.778, 7-of-9) is hitting above 69 percent. Jacob Pullen is at .686 (24-of-35), Rodney McGruder is at .571 (8-of-14), Freddy Asprilla at .385 (5-of-13) and Wally Judge is at .200 (2-of-10).
Joining Russell as the only other marksman on the team is freshman reserve guard Will Spradling, who has netted 11-of-12 for .917 shooting.
For the small guys, the troubles are just as puzzling. Martavious Irving is hitting 47 percent (8-of17) on guarded 3-pointers, but only .143 percent (1-of-7) on non-guarded freebies.
Martin reasons that the woes come from the immaturity of the team.
"When I say immature, that doesn't mean the guys are playing marbles, but the guys are still young and don't understand how to focus in on the job at hand," said Martin, whose first three teams shot .687, .648 and .668 from the line.
"They have to learn how to keep the distractions away from what you're trying to get done. They just aren't as mentally disciplined as they need to be. That's our challenge." He added, "I don't know. If I had the answer we'd be shooting 100 percent."