A Wichita State men’s basketball team with this much youth and inexperience was always going to mystify coach Gregg Marshall in some ways early in the season.
Maybe the biggest mystery through WSU’s 4-3 beginning to the 2018-19 campaign is point guard Ricky Torres’ 0-for-13 start on three-pointers.
This is a guard who was a junior-college All-American last season at Missouri State-West Plains, where he made 43.3 percent of his threes on decent volume (five attempts per game). Reviewing the film from this season reveals that nine of Torres’ 13 threes have been catch-and-shoot chances with no contest, perfect conditions for a shooter.
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So why aren’t shots falling for him? Why hasn’t one found the bottom of the net yet?
“It’s just one of those things,” Torres said. “Everybody in the entire program is telling me to keep shooting because everybody knows I can knock them down, including myself. I think I just need one to fall. When one falls, I’m sure I’ll be fine.”
Helping Torres’ cause is that all of the other tools that made him an All-American last season have transferred over to WSU. After a feeling-out process, Torres has dished out 13 assists and improved his on-ball defense in WSU’s last three games.
Torres has played 200 offensive possessions this season and committed one turnover to 15 assists.
“When you have a 15-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio and you’re running the club and you’re into the game and you’re playing both ends and you’re facilitating pretty well and getting into the lane and getting other people shots,” Marshall said, “you can live as a coach with the 0-for-whatever it is knowing that when it comes, it’s just going to be a bonus.”
His passing is valuable to WSU and Torres knows how to manipulate defenses to make them even more effective.
Instead of staring down an intended target, Torres will use his eyes to move the defense. When he whips a pass to his true target, the defender is frozen for an extra second and the shooter has that sliver of space to use. Torres is also adept at delivering passes into the shooting pocket that allows for quicker releases for WSU’s shooters. That can be the difference between a contested jump shot and a wide-open one.
“Not a lot of people can pick that up, but he has such a good feel for the game,” WSU senior Markis McDuffie said. “He knows how to get guys open and he’ll throw you those no-look passes.”
His junior college coach, Chris Popp, also raved about Torres’ “feel” for the game.
“Ricky’s feel for the game is off the charts and that’s really what makes him the player that he is,” Popp said. “There are guys who are long and athletic, there are guys who can score, there are guys who can shoot it, there are guys who are bigger and strong, but Ricky’s feel is really what allows him to get things done.”
Torres said that it took him a few games to adjust to the Division I level. He wasn’t making a ton of mistakes, but he also wasn’t leaving much of an imprint on the game.
It wasn’t until the last game in Charleston, against Alabama, when Torres truly returned to his element. He started making quicker reads, and instead of making rotation passes, he started making assist passes. He started probing the defense to collapse it, then finding the open shooter.
“People are a lot bigger, faster, stronger at this level and that’s still something I’m getting used to,” Torres said. “The reads are just a lot different when you come off a ball screen because the bigs are a lot stronger, so it’s not as easy to get around the edge. I have a lot better feel for it now, though.”
Torres is doing a lot of things well for WSU as the Shockers prepare for a Saturday showdown against Oklahoma (6-1) in Oklahoma City on Saturday. The final thing that remains is becoming a threat from the outside.
That’s something those closest to Torres aren’t worried about.
“He is a very good shooter — I think he’s in his own head with it a little bit,” Popp said. “He can shoot it, though. A lot of those looks he’s getting are good looks, so I expect those to start falling.”
“I don’t know what it is, but what I do know is that he’s working hard at it every day,” McDuffie said. “I don’t know why it’s not going in. It looks good; it’s not an unorthodox shot or anything. He has nice form. He’s just got to keep believing every shot is going to go in and stay confident. We need him to keep shooting.”
McDuffie and Dexter Dennis are both shooting 41 percent on threes. And Samajae Haynes-Jones and Erik Stevenson are both trending upward. Now Torres wants to join them.
“I just got to knock the shots down,” Torres said. “It’ll come.”