Think you can beat the Illini? Me too.

By Kevin Spitz

Over the past few years the biggest joke you hear around Assembly Hall begins, “What did the Illini men’s basketball team shoot from the free throw line last game?” Of course, to most Illini fans the punch line isn’t very funny.

The last three seasons, beginning the year after the beloved Final Four team, Illinois has been ranked dead last in the Big Ten in free throw percentage. Last year they were a full five percent below the next team. Sadly, this year’s team is even more deplorable at the line.

Excluding last night’s game, the Illini free-throw percentage this year is 59.5 percent, which ranks dead last in the Big Ten (again). That is just about three percent lower than even last year’s mark.

Even worse is Illinois’ 8-9 record that probably directly reflects the team’s woes at the stripe.

In Illinois’ four-point loss to Indiana, the team missed eight free throws and shot a little over ten percent worse from the free-throw line than their average. In Illinois’ four-point loss to Penn State, they missed six free throws and again shot a little over ten percent worse from the free-throw line. At home against Tennessee State, Illinois missed ten free throws in an embarrassing two-point loss.

And the list goes on and on. In college basketball, and especially in the Big Ten, free throws play a pivotal role in a team’s success, and that has surely been one of Illinois’ downfalls over these last three years.

The dumbfounding part is that free throws aren’t supposed to be that hard. Maybe it’s nerves, maybe it’s the fact that this team is just not good at shooting, I don’t know. I’m sure Coach Weber has tried everything he can to get them to perform well at the line, but he can’t go out and shoot the free throws for them.

It has gotten so ridiculous that I have decided to introduce the first ever Daily Illini Free Throw Challenge. (Editor’s note: The Daily Illini does not sponsor this contest, nor will it provide Kevin the money to aid him in hosting this contest.)

Here’s how it works: I will take the Illinois overall free throw percentage for the games played the previous week. For instance in games played last week against Wisconsin and Indiana the Illini shot 19 for 31 from the line for 61.2 percent.

Then, I want any willing Daily Illini readers each week to e-mail me at [email protected], and I will pick one random person to compete in the challenge.

We will pick a time to go to a basketball court and shoot ten free throws. If you shoot better than the Illini did that week (usually not too tough of a task) you will receive a crisp ten dollar bill and a certificate saying that you shoot better than the Illini at free throws, and your name in my column.

If you lose to the Illini then you just face the ridicule of your peers because your name will be in the paper that you can’t shoot better than the worst shooting team in the Big Ten.

No joke ladies and gentlemen, I am giving away free money to those lucky fans that can shoot free throws better than the Illini.

I look forward to finding out if the general Illinois student body can shoot better than our scholarship athletes and reporting the results back to you.

Kevin Spitz is a senior in Engineering. He can be reached at [email protected] Please take his money.